Swarthmore Honors Life, Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Swarthmore community honored the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a series of educational and inspirational events, including a new initiative aimed at making a lasting impact in a neighboring community.

On Monday, approximately 60 students, staff, and faculty members gathered in Upper Tarble to participate in the College’s first Martin Luther King  Jr. Day of Service. The service project - to provide school supplies to after-school youth programs in Chester - is the result of a collaboration between the Black Cultural Center (BCC), the Intercultural Center, and the Interfaith Center, with funding from the Dean's Office.

MLK Gathering
Approximately 60 students, staff, and faculty members gathered in Upper Tarble to participate in the College’s first Martin Luther King  Jr. Day of Service. (Photo by Dion Lewis).

“We realized that so many groups want to do service on this day and that the local organizations are overwhelmed with volunteers,” says co-organizer Joyce Tompkins, the College's director of religious and spiritual life. “We came up with the idea of doing something on campus that would serve the larger community in a more lasting way." From there, Cynthia Jetter '74 of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility helped identify various agencies in Chester which were in need of additional supplies for after-school programs. 

Community members arrived throughout the morning, braving the frigid temperatures to bring school supplies which were then divided among elementary, middle school, and high school needs. Once divided, the supplies were placed in Swarthmore Day of Service tote bags, along with hand-written notes penned by the volunteers in attendance.

Recipients of the tote bags include Chester Community Charter School, Chester Eastside Ministries, the Dare to Soar Program, J. Lewis Crozer Library, the Chester Apartments, the Chester Boys/Girls Club, and the Norris Street Shelter. Additionally, bulk school supplies were donated to God's House of Glory, The Chester Male Achievers Program, and Chester City-Teens Ministries.

For co-organizer Dion Lewis, assistant dean and director of the BCC, community service is an essential part of the holiday - especially among young people.

MLK Gathering
Members of the College's Environmental Services staff arrived for duty wearing matching Day of Service t-shirts. (Photo by Dion Lewis)

“It is the responsibility of those who will some day lead our country to participate in MLK activities as a way of paying homage, and be reminded that they have a responsibility to continue Dr. King’s work,” Lewis told The Delaware County Daily Times.

Lewis is proud of the turnout for the inaugural Day of Service, noting that the 60 volunteers significantly exceeded expectations, especially since the College was officially closed for the holiday. One particular highlight, he says, is that members of the College's Environmental Services staff arrived for duty wearing matching Day of Service t-shirts.

Students who attended the Day of Service were also encouraged by spirit of the event and high turnout. 

"I most enjoyed the participation of some of the staff and faculty members' children, and appreciated the rare and meaningful intergenerational representation at the event," says Lydia Koku '18 of Cherry Hill, N.J.

​Koku hopes that the spirit of service and engagement becomes more visible on campus, and that community members continue to examine what it means to responsibly and actively engage, beyond Martin Luther King Jr.​ Day, in communities outside of Swarthmore.

Louis Lainé '16, ​a political science major from Vauxhall, N.J., was ​also impressed with the participation.

​"It was great​ to see members of Swarthmore community – including some family members – come together for a day of service," he says. "​I enjoyed the fact that people who really seemed to be strangers before the event were sharing smiles and enjoying one another's company while working to serve Chester youth."​

Leslie Callahan, first female pastor of the St. Paul's Church in Philadelphia, spoke at the College's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon
President Valerie Smith, BCC Director Dion Lewis, Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, and Dean of Students Liz Braun at the College's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon.

In addition to the Day of Service on Monday, the College also sponsored a screening of the movie Selma. On Tuesday, the College hosted a vigil on the BCC's porch in remembrance of those who have suffered injustice in the country's present judicial systems. On Wednesday, President Valerie Smith welcomed and introduced Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, the first female pastor of St. Paul's Church in Philadelphia, at the College's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon. The week concludes with a campus-wide community collection featuring a special performance by the College's Gospel Choir.

Both Tompkins and Lewis were pleased with the inaugural Day of Service and the College's efforts to honor the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I think everyone agrees it was a powerful experience for our Swarthmore community to come together to honor the vision of Dr. King," Tompkins says, "and to take a day out from our usual busy schedules to give back to our larger community in his name."