Student, Community Volunteers Celebrate King’s Legacy with Service, Conversations

Monday, January 16, 2017
Singers at the MLK Prayer Service

On an already rainy day, an auditorium of more than 100 student, faculty, staff and community volunteers at Rockhurst University were told to wade deeper.

That was the challenge to those who spent the afternoon of their day off working with organizations and people throughout the city as part of the University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observation — to forge new partnerships in pursuit of King’s dream of mutuality and justice.

At an interfaith prayer service that kicked off the day, prayer leaders profiled some of the people who were shaped by King’s words and actions to make a difference in their own way. Among them were Sr. Mary Antona Ebo, F.S.M., the only African American female member of a Catholic religious community at the march for civil rights in Selma, Alabama; Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose writing and work helped inspire and was inspired by King; and John EchoHawk, a member of the Pawnee Tribe who has worked on tribal sovereignty and environmental issues who cites King as a major influence.

“It’s easy to make a figure like Martin Luther King Jr. into a saint or into a historical figure, and not draw him into what is going on now,” said Bill Kriege, associate director of campus ministry who helped plan the prayer service. “So with the prayer service, we were trying to focus on the people who were inspired by him, who kept the work going, and draw on that to say that we need to do that work right now.”

Many of the projects had volunteers working alongside members of the community, offering the chance for them to learn from one another and start conversations. Aleeyah Thompson, a senior who was leading a group to the Linwood YMCA for a project helping homeless and at-risk youth, said those simple conversations can lead to much more.

“It definitely helps build relationships,” she said. “After I went last year, I ended up as a volunteer for the entire semester. I’m happy to be going back.”

The music of the service also highlighted the spirit of cooperation and forging new partnerships by featuring singers and musicians from Kansas City’s St. Louis Church alongside Rockhurst student musicians. Marilyn Hardy, a music liturgist at St. Louis Church and a Rockhurst alumna, said the prayer service and and the work in the community was in keeping with both the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jesuit mission and values of the University.

“I’m very familiar with the Jesuits — I like what they stand for I like what they do in the community,” she said. “It just makes sense that we would come together on this day and expand on the relationship we already have with them.”