For Deborah Allen, who is in her fourth year as Furman’s associate director of diversity engagement and manager of the Center for Inclusive Communities, the level of participation in the university’s annual MLK Day of Service was the greatest so far.
“This is really the first year that I felt like it was a community event,” she said. “We had more faculty and staff than ever participate. I think we had probably about 30, which is phenomenal. You could see it in the room, how diverse the crowd was. I was really, really pleased with the attendance this year.”
According to Heller Service Corps coordinator Nancy Cooper, 286 people turned out on Monday to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They served 11 agencies in the Greenville, South Carolina, area, including one for school children in Spartanburg County and another for men who have been released from prison, and Allen hopes the experience will linger with the student volunteers.
“There were so many different types of service sites, which really highlights MLK’s commitment to serving all, not just people of color,” she said. “For me, it’s about planting a seed, and a lot of them were able to get information about the work each of these groups does. I’m hoping that they’ll continue to serve the community.”
For the second consecutive year, the MLK Day of Service worked in conjunction with Furman’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice. Task Force Co-chair Brandon Inabinet took students to continue a cleanup of the historic Brutontown Cemetery in Greenville, where the bodies of formerly enslaved people are buried in the area of James C. Furman’s Cherrydale.
“We also think that Abraham Sims, who worked at Furman and was a freed slave, might be buried at Brutontown, and we’re trying to find his grave,” Allen said. “It’s really phenomenal how this is interconnected with the curriculum and the work we’re doing with the Task Force and this Day of Service.”
On Friday, Jan. 18, 350 people attended the MLK Community Breakfast in the Melvin and Dollie Younts Conference Center to hear former NFL player, equality advocate and educator Wade Davis speak. His talk, “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere: Sustaining the Struggle for Equity,” was open to the public.
The American Association of Colleges & Universities encourages universities to be leaders in racial healing, and Furman University has its own activities and programs planned. After announcing the Board of Trustees support for the Seeking Abraham Project, the university brought national leaders from Coming to the Table to lead events and dialogues around campus in early November.
This work continues into the spring semester as students celebrate the desegregation of Furman and the memory of the university’s first African-American student, Joseph Vaughn. Students will participate in intergroup dialogues on race and fill Black History Month with musical performances, alumni events and education. Learn more about the national celebration here: https://healourcommunities.org/day-of-racial-healing/.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Furman’s MLK celebration continues with an event sponsored by the English department to commemorate the date Vaughn enrolled at Furman in 1965. Vaughn, who died in 1991, graduated cum laude in 1968 as an English major and taught English in Columbia, South Carolina, and in the Greenville County School District for 13 years.
The Joseph Vaughn celebration begins with a walk at 12:45 p.m., which starts in the English department lounge in Furman Hall and proceeds to the James B. Duke Library steps.