By STEVEN NALLEY
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
It’s a maxim Jamey Matte has taken to heart as director of Volunteer Starkville. She said she is a firm believer in the value of year-round community service, but she views Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a special opportunity for many people to reacquaint themselves with this value.
“Rather than viewing this holiday as a day off from work to relax,” Matte said, “I think it is very important that we view it as an opportunity for a day to serve our local communities.”
Several days of service opportunities and educational programs will culminate on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, which will feature Mississippi State University’s Unity Breakfast, Volunteer Starkville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Stamp Out Bullying at East Oktibbeha County Elementary School and an NAACP memorial march and rally on Douglas Conner Drive.
The Unity Breakfast is a 19-year tradition that MSU Chief Diversity Officer Tommy Stevenson said is aimed at honoring King’s life and legacy, remembering his message, uniting the community and celebrating the progress it has made toward achieving King’s dream. This year’s guest speaker is Maj. Gen. Augustus L. Collins, adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard and the first African American to attain the Guard’s general officer rank.
“Typically, we try to identify individuals who have ties to the State of Mississippi and (whose) careers have demonstrated positive contributions that reflect ideals Dr. King stood for,” Stevenson said. “Maj. Gen. Collins is a Mississippi native who has a long, distinguished, and in some ways historic career providing service to our state and nation. His story can provide an inspiring message to all about dedicating oneself to service much like what Dr. King did.”
The breakfast, catered by Aramark Dining Services, will begin at 7 a.m. in the Colvard Student Union’s Bill Foster Ballroom, with Collins’ remarks beginning one hour later. Stevenson said MSU will also unveil the winners of its Second Annual Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast Writing Competition.
“The competition invites high school students from our area to submit essays prompted by an aspect of Dr. King’s message,” Stevenson said. “The top three winners are awarded cash prizes, and the first place winner has the opportunity to share his or her essay during the breakfast.”
Matte said the goal of the Day of Service is to teach local residents about King and his legacy while providing fun activities and collecting school supplies for city and county schools. While the event is free, she said, guests are encouraged to bring such supplies as pencils, paper, crayons, tissues and paper towels to donate.
The Day of Service begins at 10 a.m. in the Starkville Sportsplex gym with a general assembly where special guests from MSU, the Longview Disciples 4-H Club, the Mississippi Brain Injury Association and other local organizations will discuss bicycle safety, the value of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and King’s legacy. Activities to follow include art and poetry stations, face painting, readings of children’s books, an MLK Trivia Nook, the Pilot Club’s Brainminders puppet show, a bicycle safety class and child-friendly games.
“While all of these activities will be going on, we will have several of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches being broadcast continuously over the loudspeaker to keep a constant reminder as to why we are there,” Matte said. “Lastly, in the open space outside the entrance to the gym, we will have several booths set up with organizations that wanted to participate at our event. The Starkville Police Department will be set up so parents can get a fingerprint card for their children, the Starkville Fire Department will be there to talk about fire safety, OSERVS will be set up letting volunteers write letters to deployed soldiers (and) OCH Regional Medical Center will be talking about health.”
Matte said volunteers are needed at each volunteer station to interact and play games with children. While this is Volunteer Starkville’s second year holding a Day of Service, this will be the first time the event has taken this form.
“Since the Americorps VISTAs at MSU and the University of Mississippi are partnering together for their MLK School Supply Drive, Volunteer Starkville and Volunteer Oxford thought it would be a good idea to mimic similar activities on MLK Day within our communities,” Matte said. “Therefore, both volunteer centers (those of Starkville and Oxford) are hosting similar events within their communities.”
Stamp Out Bullying runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the EOCES cafeteria. Christopher Ferrell, a graduate assistant with the Maroon Volunteer Center, said Stamp Out Bullying is one of several AmeriCorps programs built around national days of service, including the 9/11 National Day of Service and Make a Difference Day. He said the event’s goal is to bring children, teachers and volunteers together to discuss why bullying problems exist and measures to end bullying.
“The students will express emotions about being bullied, reasons not to bully, the effects bullying can have on people, and what to do if you are being bullied,” Ferrell said. “This fair will consist of the students making posters, t-shirts and banners, (as well as) chanting about expressions that are associated with bullying. Student volunteers with Mississippi State University will assist with managing the different booths at the fair.”
Finally, the Oktibbeha County NAACP will host a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the north end of Douglas Conner Drive and culminating in a rally at the Oktibbeha County Courthouse. Pam Dancer, Oktibbeha NAACP secretary, said the march has been an annual tradition for so long that it predates her involvement in the NAACP, going all the way back to the days of area civil rights pioneer Douglas Conner himself.
The guest speaker for the rally is George Buell, pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Starkville. Dancer said the march’s theme is “The season and the time are now for the community to be together in prayer.”
“That’s part of (Martin Luther King Jr.’s) dream,” Dancer said. “We are trying to unite the community.”