by Brooke Winters
Drew University honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy earlier this month during a two-day series of events consisting of discussions on civil rights and engaging in a day of service with the local community. On MLK Day, Drew hosted a screening of Freedom Summer, a documentary that discusses the important work done by civil rights activists in Mississippi to register black voters. These activists faced physical violence, threats, and even death in order to advance the civil rights movement.
President Baenninger gave some opening remarks before the film, saying, “At Drew, we are trying to make our actions reflect our education.” She went on to say that, “The issues of freedom and justice that Dr. King spoke of are still strongly affecting our society today.” Nearly 100 people attended the film screening. After the film, a discussion was hosted by Professor Kesha Moore of the Sociology Department, along with other students and faculty. Drew’s personal connection to Freedom Summer and the civil rights movement were a part of the discussion.
On Jan. 17th, Drew delivered on its promise to have its actions reflect its education by participating in multiple community service projects on and off campus. Amy Koritz, the Director of the Civic Engagement Office, said Drew’s mission in organizing the events “was two-fold: to come together as a university in recognition of ML King’s legacy of fighting for justice, serving the vulnerable, and empowering the disempowered. Integral to this legacy is not only King’s political advocacy, but the commitment to serve in our local communities.”
Koritz also said, “We were pleased with the enthusiasm of those Drew students, faculty, and staff who participated, and with the support of the Drew Staff Association, the President’s Office, the Volunteer Resource Center, Student Government, the CRCC, and the CLA Dean’s Office. We hope to increase this participation through greater coordination with Drew offices next year.”
Drew’s participation in off-campus events included interior work on homes in the Dover area for Morris Habitat for Humanity and volunteering at local food pantries. The construction of these houses is expected to be completed by June. At the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, 35 Drew volunteers sorted and boxed groceries and cleaning products. Community is the largest food bank in New Jersey and plays a vital role in distributing groceries to 1,400 organizations in 17 counties. At another off-campus event, students in Morristown helped organize the Market Street Mission Thrift Store, which sells a wide variety of goods at low prices, providing low income individuals with an economically viable option to buy clothes and kitchen appliances.
On-campus service activities included creating toiletry kits for the Morristown Soup Kitchen, a book drive for children, and putting together school supply bags for refugees. These events occurred in the 1867 Lounge, where Dr. King’s 1964 speech he delivered at Drew University was broadcasted as volunteers worked.
Stefanie DeFronzo (‘20) attended one of Drew’s off-campus service events. She said, “I signed up to volunteer at the Interfaith Food Pantry of Morris County, where we worked together, as a sort of production line, to put together dry bean soup kits. The kits consisted of three different types of beans, rice, and spices, complete with a recipe and directions to cook at home. I felt really happy to put together these kits, knowing that the families in Morris County who rely on the pantry will have a hearty and nutritious winter soup to easily cook for a good meal or two.” DeFronzo went on to say that, “Since Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of/for the people as a leader of the civil rights movement, I think that our work at the food pantry (and other community organizations) was also in his spirit of being for the people. Civic engagement, or community service, may sound complex or daunting, but helping others is very simple. It is sometimes hard to think about how your assistance fits into a larger picture of change, but no matter the size, your one helping hand is making a difference that can lead to change larger than you can probably even imagine.”
Looking to get involved in future service projects to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy beyond the national holiday? Amy Koritz said, “We encourage all Drew students to take advantage of Community-Based Learning classes that connect their academic work to the important missions of our community partners. These classes are a great way to explore areas of interest in the real world while being supported by a professor and your fellow students. We are also happy to work with students on an individual basis to identify community service opportunities that fit their interests and schedules. The Center partners with the Career Center and the Alumni Affairs office to sponsor annual Civically Engaged Alumni Networking and Non-Profit Career and Volunteer Opportunities events open to the entire campus. We invite the entire Drew community to join us on April 18 for the Civic Engagement Showcase and Awards Ceremony celebrating the important work Drew students, faculty and staff do that benefits the world beyond campus.”