Brilynn Kirk barely glances at the border strand in front of Jacob Baker as she tries a few open spaces with the puzzle piece she spied lying in a neat pile in front of her.
Within a few seconds, she finds the proper home for the piece.
“She’s a natural,” says Jared Weiss ’21, who, along with fellow Marietta College baseball players Isaac Huffman ’21, Mike Hale ’19 and Jacob Baker ’19, gave Kirk their full attention as they helped the little girl work a puzzle featuring a kitten sitting in a pink tennis shoe.
Kirk is a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County, where half of Marietta College’s baseball team spent the morning with children playing games, working puzzles and doing other fun activities as part of the College’s inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service & Reflection. The other half of the team worked in The Gathering Place on campus, packing GoPacks for elementary and middle school students in the Marietta City Schools District who rely on these food packs for nourishment during snow days and spring break.
Rather than hold classes on Monday, January 21, the College offered multiple opportunities for students and employees to serve the community, and also offered educational workshops to faculty and staff in the afternoon that provided resources in civic engagement and student support.
“We wanted to highlight the legacy and life of Dr. King by emphasizing his 1967 visit to Marietta College and have our students speak in order to provide a voice of the struggle for equal rights"
- Dr. Nkenge Friday, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Diversity and Inclusion
Led by the offices of Diversity and Inclusion and Civic Engagement, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service & Reflection was a layered day,
designed to engage, involve and impact all participants through multiple opportunities of participation. Honoring Dr. King’s visit to Marietta College on March 2, 1967, the day provided an opportunity for the campus to understand the role the civil rights leader has played in the fabric of American history.
“Our goal was to provide a day of service that reflected the struggle for African-American freedom and civil rights for the underserved through community engagement, educational opportunities and reflective programming,” says Dr. Nkenge Friday, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Diversity and Inclusion.
The day included on-campus and off-campus direct service projects in the morning, a campus-wide celebration luncheon that featured five students reciting portions of Dr. King’s speeches, faculty and staff workshops after lunch, and student discussion programs in the evening. Melvin Shuler ’19 recited “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Jo Herd-Middlebrooks ’19 recited “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Tyler Walker ’22, Eric Landrum ’22 and Siarra Demichele ’22 recited portions of the speech Dr. King delivered during his 1967 visit to Marietta College.
“It was an honor to recite MLK’s last speech,” Shuler says. “Who knows, would I even be here if it weren’t for him? So because of that I felt privileged to be a part of the Day of Service. It was also nerve-racking. It felt like a lot of pressure saying his last speech before he died. I wanted to make sure I did it justice. It was almost like he predicted his death. He was so confident in his eternal life. It was a great example of the place I want to be emotionally and spiritually before I leave this place. The content of the speech was impactful, so I felt obligated to deliver with passion and conviction.”
Friday says the students spent hours rehearsing the speeches and dedicating their efforts to make the day’s programming a success.
“We wanted to highlight the legacy and life of Dr. King by emphasizing his 1967 visit to Marietta College and have our students speak in order to provide a voice of the struggle for equal rights — one that resonates with our current generation and is calling for additional work in confronting the persistent problems of prejudice, poverty and access,” Friday says.
In addition to spending time with children at the Boys & Girls Club and filling 120 boxes and 120 snow bags for the GoPacks program, Maribeth Saleem-Tanner, Director of Civic Engagement, says more than 400 Marietta College volunteers also conducted service projects at the Marietta Family YMCA, Ely Chapman Center, Humane Society of the Mid-Ohio Valley, Trading Post nonprofit thrift store and Peoples Bank Theatre.
Baseball coach Brian Brewer smiled as he watched his players, who outnumbered the children at the Boys & Girls Club, interact with the kids through conversation, card games, playing pool and other activities.
“The College didn’t have classes today and made this optional,” Brewer says. “If your options are sleeping in or helping, I know these guys will always choose helping. I think we have a pretty special group here.”
- Gi Smith