The Words of the Phillips Family

MLK Initiative at the University of Bridgeport a Success

Righthero Phillips
February 1, 2005

Feb-1-2005 (Bridgeport, CT) The University of Bridgeport, local and national non-profit organizations joined forces to launch the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Learning and Diversity Education Initiative (MLK Initiative) to celebrate and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by learning about Dr. King's legacy of social justice and service while contributing to those most in need in the community. CARP was the main driver lead by Justin Fong and myself, along with Service for Peace. The three-week initiative, which concluded on January 31st, 2005 proved to be a great success with over 250 volunteers participating in a variety of community service projects.

The program revolved around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, January 17, when students, alumni, staff and faculty from UB and local universities came together with local school pupils by engaging in a variety of community service projects and educational activities. Pupils in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades chose between preparing and delivering meals for the homeless at the Prospect House Homeless Shelter, visiting seniors in Astoria Park Health Care and interviewing them on their experience during the civil rights movement or developing a skit about Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Over 40 high school students from the Bridgeport International Academy were led by UB students in small teams to renovate houses with the Habitat for Humanity in Stratford, Connecticut. K-5th graders stayed on campus and took part in educational games and activities related to the life and work of Dr. King. They created, among other things, a picture quilt, 3 feet high by 10 feet wide, containing their graphic representations of words such as love, peace, the "I Have a Dream" speech, etc., as well as "dream clouds" with renderings of their own dreams.

The MLK Day program concluded with a free lunch, provided by Sodexo Food Services, during which the participants took part in a reflection activity on their experiences and reported the outcomes of their projects.

One of the outstanding features of all of the programs was the diversity of the volunteers. As well as African Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics there were volunteers from China, Nepal, Jordan, Japan, Korea, the Caribbean, Bulgaria, Spain, the Ukraine, Africa and other parts of the world. These multiracial and multiethnic teams vividly demonstrated Dr. King's dream of racial harmony. One participant from Japan, Tokuo Nishiwaki reported, "I was amazed that a simple task such as renovating an old building could bring people together. This humbling act of service was our tool along with the driving force of MLK's spirit, to break through barriers and truly realize how much we can do for others just as MLK did for America, if not the world as well. Many international students were not aware of MLK's teachings, but they came out inspired to serve."

The MLK Initiative, organized under the theme "Celebrate, Serve, Learn & Honor," concluded with a public forum at the University of Bridgeport on January 31st. The forum entitled "Advancing the Dream in Bridgeport," featured a panel with Carolyn Nah, President of the NAACP, Ron Keith Thomas, the first African American firefighter in Greenwich, CT and Barbara Johnson, Community Relations Director of People's Bank. Student leaders presented a slideshow of service projects during the period and Dr. Charles Phillips the Chairperson for the MLK Initiative reported on the results of the activities and the impact on the local community. Phillips challenged students, service partners and community leaders to continue building on our efforts and building towards a larger citywide initiative involving government, business sectors, as well as the social service organizations in the MLK Initiative in 2006.

The MLK Initiative 2005 is the kickoff for a significant commitment to community service by UB students and others, which did not end on January 31st but will continue throughout the year. Even though CARP and Service for Peace lead the way, it was a combined organizational project with the purpose of creating a culture of service surrounding MLK Day. Many volunteers have already made commitments to continue mentoring youth at the Roosevelt and Hall Elementary Schools. Additionally, some volunteers have taken on volunteer roles to teach Life Skills, GED Preparation and other classes at the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center. For more information on continuing activities, please visit or call 203 576 4015.

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