ST. GEORGE — Over 100 students and members of the community gathered at Dixie State University to spend their day off volunteering at seven locations around St. George.
This Monday is the second annual MLK Day of Service under the direction of Tasha Toy, Dixie State’s campus diversity and inclusion center director as well as the university’s chief diversity officer. Toy was hired at DSU just under two years ago and started the official day of service in honor of the civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.
“MLK Day of Service is how he wanted to celebrate his legacy,” she said. “His legacy, and his wife Coretta Scott King, wanted it to be more of giving back, which is what he wanted to do.”
People across the nation celebrate King’s legacy each year on the third Monday of January. The federal holiday falls close to King’s birthday on Jan. 15, and many businesses, as well as schools and post offices, observe the day by closing their doors.
Unlike most other holidays, however, “King Day,” as it is called in other regions of the United States, isn’t meant for barbecues and relaxation. Instead, many of the employees and students who have the day off use their additional spare time to volunteer.
“He marched, he rallied, he spoke, he raised money and he raised consciousness,” Toy said. “He did for others, and that is why we are doing a day of service, which has the theme of a day on and not a day off.”
The national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service originated in 1994 and was founded by former Pennsylvania senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis. The federal legislation, signed by President Bill Clinton, challenges Americans to turn the holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service to honor King. To this day, the only other national day of service in the U.S. is Sept. 11 National Day of Service.
In past years, Toy said, a group of 20 students found volunteer opportunities on their own the Tuesday after the federal holiday. But when she was hired, Toy wanted to create an official university day of service in honor of King. Last year’s event was the first of its kind at Dixie State with almost 50 students and local residents volunteering at a handful of locations. This year, the number of volunteers has more than doubled.
This year, over 90 students and members of the community, including university President Richard “Biff” Williams and his family, registered to volunteer at seven locations around the city, including Switchpoint, Habitat for Humanity and Bella Tera. While groups prepared to depart for their assigned destination, over 15 more individuals arrived to lend their support.
From gardening to helping assisted living centers host a painting day for its residents, the sites spanned all of what community service is.
“All of these are nonprofit organizations or service groups that give support to other people, which is right in line with what MLK wanted to do,” Toy said.
While the main motivation behind the day of service is to honor King, Southern Utah does benefit. As more people see what Utah has to offer, Toy said, the state will grow and more people will relocate to the area.
These new residents will not always look the same or believe in the same things, but Utahns have a responsibility to be respectful and compassionate, she said. Events like these raise awareness and illustrate the level of patience and kindness residents should show everyone they meet.
“What you learn is great, but when you share with others, it’s even better,” Toy said. “That’s what we’re doing; we’re practicing what we’re preaching, or teaching, in this case.”
Much like the state of Utah as a whole, Dixie State has grown immensely over the years, which is great not only for the area but also for the students, Toy said. The growth in population gives students the opportunity to learn from their peers who come from different backgrounds and who have different perspectives.
This university-wide growth also gives the inclusion center the ability to actively teach students, faculty and staff about the importance of inclusivity and civility.
“MLK is about not just one particular group’s holiday but everyone’s holiday,” she said. “He marched for all individuals, for everyone to have a voice and for everyone to be heard. It has to start somewhere, and this is where it starts.”
Toy said the best way for students and members of the community who missed Monday’s day of service is to show support to other inclusivity events happening throughout the year.
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