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Georgetown's MLK Projects Part of Obama's National Day of Service

January 20, 2013 – Georgetown’s service projects on Jan. 19 with the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative in the District’s Ward 7 were selected as an official part of the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s National Day of Service.

The projects are part of a weeklong commemoration (Jan. 19-25) of the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that includes the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, religious services, musical entertainment and an academic focus on social messages from King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Serving the District

Hundreds of university students, faculty, staff and alumni and others kicked off the week Jan. 19 by volunteering to paint murals in area schools, conduct literacy workshops and assist members of the senior population in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7.

“Each year, in honor of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., members of our community gather together for a day of service,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “We are grateful for this opportunity to celebrate the holiday in a way that both serves our local D.C. community and reflects our Catholic and Jesuit tradition of being women and men for others.”

Legacy of a Dream

On Jan. 20, Georgetown will honor the work of D.C.’s Mary Brown, executive director of Life Pieces to Masterpieces, for her work to improve the lives of young African-American boys and men in D.C. Wards 7 and 8.

Brown will be awarded the John Thompson Legacy of a Dream Award during the Let Freedom Ring concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  The event is free and a limited number of tickets are open to the public.

Award-wining singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson will perform during the event along with the Let Freedom Ring choir, comprising members of the university and D.C. communities.

“We are so pleased, this year, to recognize and celebrate the work of Mary Brown,” DeGioia says. “Through her extraordinary organization, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, Mary has changed the lives of countless young men in our community, providing them with the support to overcome significant obstacles and to flourish. We are grateful for her contributions.”

Classes Study MLK Letter

This year marks the 50th anniversary of King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” which King wrote from jail in Birmingham, Ala., in April 1963, after being arrested for protesting racial segregation.

More than 20 classes at Georgetown have incorporated the letter into their curriculum, says Andria Wisler, executive director of the Center for Social Justice Teaching, Research and Service.

“It’s such a beautifully written letter and piece of scholarship,” she says. “The letter speaks to so many great topics – racial injustice, economic injustice, even health disparities.”

Each one of Georgetown’s schools has at least one class incorporating the letter, including the School of Foreign Service campus in Qatar.

Importance of Social Justice

“The fact that we have so much widespread support for this pedagogical initiative is really exciting,” Wisler says.

Michael Smith, associate director of institutional diversity, equity and affirmative action at Georgetown, says the King’s letter has sparked reflection on campus.

“There’s a famous quote from that letter … ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ ” he says. “Collectively, being able to reflect on personal instances of injustice gives voice to those occurrences, and it really speaks to the importance of social justice and the Ignatian tradition of caring for the whole person.”

Religious Component

Each of the religious communities on campus also has agreed to use some elements of the letter in their services during the week.

Smith and Rev. Bryant Oskvig, Protestant chaplain at Georgetown, serve as co-chairs of the committee organizing the MLK week of events.

One of the great things about the ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ Oskvig says, “is that it was this seminal piece of this conversation going on during the civil rights movement that has reverberations that continue to move through today and call us to action even in this day.”

For more information about the week’s events, visit the MLK Celebration page.

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