Averett’s 2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Week

Posted on January 29th, 2021 by Matt Bell

Though it looked a little different this year, Averett University’s recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. week continued with a series of events aimed at service and community building.

On Sunday, Jan. 17, Averett’s Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness (CCECC), along with several community partners, hosted the annual America’s Sunday Supper, only virtually this time. With more than 900 Zoom participants from across the Commonwealth and the country in attendance, the conversations and keynote address centered around the crucial theme, “From Chaos to Community.”

The program was opened by CCECC leaders Dr. Billy Wooten and Tia Yancey, joining live from the Civil Rights exhibit in the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History. Introductions included a special welcome from Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Danville native Traci DeShazor.

Foregoing the typical event format of a community meal and in-person discussion forum of the Sunday Supper events, the team of community partners was determined to continue the important progress the annual event looks to achieve by creating a safe space through the virtual environment.

“Everybody in this (Zoom) room is part of a movement, part of a solution,” said Wooten, executive director of the CCECC.

The highlight of the event was the keynote address from nationally known Democratic political figure Stacey Abrams, who began by describing the juxtaposition of celebrating historic Democratic victories in Georgia to the chaos as insurgents raided the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C., all within hours on January 6.

“In the midst of our chaos, we find community,” Abrams said. “When you think of the words of Dr. King of chaos to community…he understood the cyclical nature of who we are.”

Daughter of a shipyard worker father and college librarian mother, she recounted the lessons they bestowed and the values of faith, education and community they instilled.

“My parents taught me that you use your faith as a shield to protect, not a sword to knock others down,” she said. “They understood that education is the one thing they cannot take from you. They understood that a good education was like a set of wings – you could soar, you could fly.”

She also remembered their emphasis on the power and necessity of service.

“Having nothing is not an excuse for doing nothing,” she recalled her father saying. “Service comes back to you tenfold.”

As a young, Black girl with modest roots in the south, she was challenged to find her place, to find community.

“In the chaos of poverty in Black Mississippi, I had to find community wherever I could.”

She finds herself working to build community even now in her career – not waiting for the majority to invite the minority in, for men to want a woman involved, or for white peers to engage the Black ones.

“I believe that my responsibility is community…How can we find ways to work together to get things done? … Community does require that our political ideologies fall aside. It requires us all to understand, respect, listen and learn.

“Community is complicated. Community is hard, and it is rough.”

Abrams believes the American community can continue despite current events and political divisiveness – but not without work.

“Bringing community out of chaos will require trust, it will necessitate imagination, and it will only be if we take action,” she finished.

Following her speech, which can be viewed here, attendees were invited to participate in discussions groups in Zoom surrounding current events, issues facing the community and equality.

Continuing the week of service, on Monday, Jan. 18, volunteers from Averett traveled to Caswell Parish, a food bank located in Caswell County, N.C., to clean and sort items and donate food.

Then on Tuesday, students prepared 300 hygiene care packages for God’s Storehouse.

“We had students come together to assemble the bags containing toiletries, deodorant, lotion, wash cloths, toothpaste and soap,” said Yancey, CCECC community engagement director.

Rebecca Clifton, a junior nursing major from Danville, said she chose to help with God’s Storehouse because she sees the importance of giving back to the organization.

“It’s important to give back and especially with toiletries to maintain hygiene. Giving the care packages to God’s Storehouse will get them to many of those who need them most in the community,” Clifton said.

Another care package project was held Thursday for inmates in partnership with Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority of Danville. For those care packages, inmates received socks, deodorant and candy. AKA donated many of the items for the inmate care packages.

Cheyenne Espinosa, a senior from Southern California majoring in sports medicine, said the inmate care packages were a surprise.

“I’m very passionate about equality and I believe everyone has a right to do good for the community,” Espinosa said.

Trolley tours of Danville were also held by appointment on Wednesday. A total of 17 people from Averett and the community participated in the tour. During each tour, participants learned more about segregation in Danville and Black-owned businesses that have a long history in the city, and got to tour the Holbrook-Ross neighborhood.