University Hosts Annual MLK Freedom School

The University commemorates MLK with the annual Freedom School celebration.

The University commemorates MLK with the annual Freedom School celebration.

Isabella Balian, Staff Writer

Every year, Villanova students, staff and faculty participate in service projects, presentations and events during the week of Jan. 17 to commemorate the legacy and wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. The University’s most popular events during the week include the MLK Jr. Freedom School Presentations and the MLK Jr. Day of Service. 

The MLK Jr. Day of Service is an event that the University hosts for students of all backgrounds and social identities to come together to improve lives, break social barriers and bring the community together. For this day of service, Villanova students usually participate in off-campus service events. Fifteen years ago, several Black Villanova students were inspired to give back to the communities of Philadelphia and started this initiative. Over the past 15 years, this initiative has grown and now partners with up to 32 community locations in Philadelphia. Events like beautifying a community hall or church or serving food to a community are just some examples of service opportunities that University students participate in for the MLK Jr. Day of Service.

Unfortunately, due to the increased spread of COVID-19’s new variant, the off-campus service events were unable to take place this year. Despite the barriers, students still accommodated and participated in the day of service. This year, students put together blessing bags for the YMCA for people who are experiencing homelessness and put together Kits for a Cause for families with ill children. Additionally, this year’s sponsors for Villanova’s MLK Jr. Day of Service were United Healthcare and NJM Insurance Group. 

On the University’s MLK Jr. Day of Service website, there are many organizations linked for opportunities to donate and offer service. Some organizations providing ongoing support include SHARE Food program, Cradles to Crayons, Food Moxie and Tree House Books. 

In addition to the MLK Jr. Day of Service, students participate in the Freedom School event, which is an opportunity for University students, staff and faculty to participate in lectures, presentations and seminars advocating for social justice. Usually, the MLK Freedom School presentations occur in person, but they were virtual this year through Zoom. To start the presentations, the University hosts a keynote speaker to speak on a social justice topic. Past year keynote speakers included Sonia Sanchez, Chaka Fattah, Cornel West, Patricia Williams, Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Timothy Tyson. 

This year, Winona LaDuke, Harvard-educated American environmental activist and writer, spoke about sacred relationships with the land, justice and redemption. LaDuke advocates for climate justice, renewable energy, environmental justice and for protecting indigineous plants and heritage foods from patenting and genetic engineering. The student and staff-led Freedom School sessions cover many social justice issues such as allyship, movement organizing, environmental justice, antiracism, health equity, peacebuilding and nonviolence and animal welfare. This year’s presentations included topics such as fair trade and ethical purchasing, prison gerrymandering, the humanitarian crisis in Armenia, action nonviolence training and settler colonialism. 

Senior Isabel Hagobian reflected on her experience presenting for the Freedom School initiative.

“I was given the amazing opportunity to present for the MLK Jr. Freedom School, which permits students to interactively learn about different social issues,” Hagobian said. “Talking about social justice gives people the chance to talk about real world problems. This opportunity also gives us the chance to learn about past and current social justice issues while empowering ourselves and others to act.” 

Dr. King visited Villanova on Jan. 20, 1965 and delivered a speech regarding civil rights and desegregation in the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse. King holds a lifelong legacy that inspires students to break down barriers based on background and social identity, and these events at the University aim to carry on his legacy.