The Manhattan community promoted service and compassion in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. Manhattan Town Center hosted a daylong event called “A Day On, Not a Day Off,” featuring a prayer breakfast followed by live singing, dancing, writing and art contests and multiple booths filled with community service opportunities.
According to Rev. Jim Spencer, assistant minister at Pilgrim Baptist Church and one of the coordinators of the event, the Martin Luther King Jr. event has been going on for 30 years. 93-year-old Manhattan resident Rosa Hickman said she has attended the event every year except one.
“It’s nice to see Manhattan has had such a big change for the better,” Hickman said, explaining that, having lived in Manhattan all her life, she remembers what it was like when it was less accepting of African-Americans. “[Now] you can go places you could not even go.”
Volunteers in orange service jackets left the Manhattan Town Center in large groups heading for Meadowlark Retirement home and other areas to make the holiday a service day. Booths around the mall gave visitors the opportunity to sign up for community service and even register to vote.
Spencer said that the event’s main focus was “recognizing Dr. King,” but that it also emphasized “giving back to the community.”
Hickman agreed, saying, “It’s about getting the community to celebrate in appreciation.” She attends the event each year because she wants to honor King, a sincere person who tried, in a peaceful way, to make things better, she said. Hickman added that she also enjoyed meeting with friends she didn’t see very often.
“I love Manhattan,” she said. “The people here are the nicest, most giving and helpful people. Anywhere I go, people are friendly to me.”
The art and writing contests featured winners from different age divisions ranging from kindergarten to adults. The winning entries were hung on a board for all to see.
“We try to get all ages involved,” Spencer said.
In connection with “A Day On, Not a Day Off,” the Manhattan Beach Museum hosted an open house featuring photography, hands-on art and teachers called docents who spoke about relevant works of art.
Nancy Prawl, one of the docents on duty at the museum, explained that the museum’s goal is to show “Midwest regional art and art of the Midwest,” with all the diversity that the region contains.
“It’s art that reflects the ethnicity and culture in Kansas. It includes all ethnic groups; there’s a lot of diversity,” Prawl said, pointing out a piece of artwork by a Japanese artist. “It’s not just black and white.”
Three K-State students volunteered to help at this event. When asked why, Michelle Foster, senior in political science and American ethnic studies, answered, “It’s to do something for someone else.”
Stephanie Skinner, junior in animal science, explained that the holiday is about working for others, not about getting a day off.
“We don’t have school or work today, and it’s only for a few hours,” Skinner said.
Aarushi Gupta, who works for the Institute for Commercialization at K-State, said the day on is about making a difference.
“It’s about putting the day to a good use — to make a difference in a small dose,” Gupta said.
Foster added that there was a whole town and community to explore and get involved with.
“Students can get too caught up on campus,” Foster said.
The K-State Women’s Center volunteers working the Martin Luther King Committee Booth at the Manhattan Town Center agreed.
“Do you really want to go out partying for 15 weekends when you could be saving the suffering?” one woman asked. “There were just hordes and hordes of K-State students coming to volunteer this morning, but think about how much of a difference we could make if it happened every weekend instead of just at this one event.”
Mary Todd, director of the Women’s Center, added that, “Students are just not as interested in history.”
Todd thought maybe if people learned more about Dr. King, they would be inspired to act.
“Martin Luther King didn’t ask whether it was politically correct, or whether it was popular,” Todd said. “He asked whether it was right. It was about the power of love.”