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University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s TRiO program honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday with a celebration of his message of service to the community.
The theme for the event, attended by about 40 students and faculty members, was Plan+Serve=Impact.
TRiO Career/Cultural Specialist Matt Williamson said the celebration was an attempt to connect younger students with the civil rights movement.
“One thing we find is young people are so far removed from the events of the ’60s,” Williamson said. “This gives them the chance to experience, if you will, what it was like during that time.
“The legacy of Dr. King is certainly not only his life, but what he stood for,” he said. “And one of his greatest acts for civil rights was service.”
During the event, several students read excerpts from King’s speeches.
Denesha Degraffenreid, 21, said even though she wasn’t the “speech type,” she wanted to read in honor of King because he played such a major part in changing American society. Degraffenreid said she read an excerpt from King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech because she felt she “was on her way to the mountaintop.”
Degraffenreid said she admires King’s message of service. She said in the past she has volunteered for Guardian ad Litem, the Lancaster Fatherhood Project and Habitat for Humanity.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand the concept of what he did, how much he impacted America,” she said. “I think a lot of people these days think, ‘What can I do to bring about change?’
“I think this (teaches) people about Martin Luther King and what he was trying to do, and that is to show that the way you change society is to serve,” she said.
Academic specialist Thomas Monroe said the importance of service continues today. He said King’s legacy lies in such local community service organizations as HOPE in Lancaster, Family Promise, Christian Services and a myriad of others.
“Giving back to your community is one of the best things you can do for your community. It’s very important,” Monroe said. “Nonprofits are something of a lifeline for a community.”
In closing the event, Williamson called on the students to draw inspiration from the lasting impression King made on America.
“It changed America, what he did in such a short period of time,” Williamson said. “It should inspire you to ask, ‘What can I do?’”
TRiO is a federal outreach and student services program dedicated to helping low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities achieve academic success.
USCL’s program serves about 250 students in high school and college, officials said.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 283-1151