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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Service with a smile (and a song)

The first day of Emory's King Week 2011 began with service projects scattered across Atlanta and concluded with a compelling panel discussion about service in Glenn Auditorium.

Monday, January 17, was Emory's traditional "Day On," a nice, orderly change of pace following nearly a week's-worth of snow- and ice-related mayhem in Atlanta. Students and alumni alike planted trees in the King Historic District and volunteered at several nonprofits here in the late civil rights leader's hometown.

Then at 7:00 p.m., several of those volunteers as well as a variety of other guests attended the panel discussion, "Open Doors and Open Minds: The Intersection of Race and Gender in Service."

Before the speakers (two Emory alumni among them), took the stage, a pair of Emory's a cappella groups, Dooley Noted (above) and AHANA, warmed up the crowd. Pleasantly, the energy didn't dissipate when the conversation began.

Asked how service came to play a role in her life, panelist Renelda Mack 83C, the founder of Emory Cares International Service Day for former president of the Emory Alumni Board (EAB), credited her mother, a teacher, who worked in Belle Glade, FL, one of the state's poorest communities.

"I saw a compassionate group of teachers who served students and the rest of the community, not just educationally, but spiritually." said Mack, now chief of the civil rights in Florida's state attorney's office.

"It was a logical extension of their work," Mack continued. "In that environment, luxuries were few but love was abundant. The value of service was not taught, but something I caught by being in that atmosphere."

Moderator Doug Shipman 95C, an EAB member and CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, kept the conversation lively, and deftly wove King's words into the discussion. Shipman's reference to King's "World House," an image from his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, led to one of the most intriguing points of the night.

All the panelists agreed that Americans are quick to come together to help each other when it's needed, and that community service can break down many barriers. It's what happens after that service is over and we return to our normal lives where we might need to take a second look.

"We can live next door to folk, but rarely invite them into our homes," said panelist Young Hughley, CEO of Resources for Residents and Communities of Georgia. The "World House," Hughley said, is about "more than just coming to someone's aid. It's about having a one-on-one relationship and learning more about your Hispanic neighbor or gay brother."

Could that notion--that service breaks down the barriers that for whatever reason are standing pretty high in our day-to-day lives--be worth further exploration?

It was a fascinating thought as the first day of Emory's nine-day-long King Week closed.

-- Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

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