Hundreds Honor MLK’s Legacy at Stevens’ Third Annual Day of Service
More than 500 Stevens students, faculty and staff braved ice and snow to attend the university’s third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 16, listening to thoughtful lectures, enjoying student performances and participating in service activities that benefitted 14 local nonprofits and community organizations. The event was sponsored in part by a $5,000 grant awarded by AmeriCorps and their partners Engage NJ and The Partnership Alliance.
Liliana Delman, director of Stevens’ Office of Student Culture and Belonging and the event’s organizer, welcomed attendees over a community breakfast. She shared a quote from King to focus the day’s intention: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” “May our collective efforts on this MLK Day of Service bring us closer to the realization of the beloved community that Dr. King dreamt of,” she said, “a community founded on love, service and the unwavering commitment to non-violence.”
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Takeem Dean came to the stage to discuss the enduring work of King — “the man whose dream has become the world’s challenge” — likening him to “a drum major for justice.” He then introduced members of Lambda Tau Omega Sorority, Inc. who performed a step routine. Originating at Black Greek Letter Organizations, the synchronized clapping and stomping movements emphasize unity and pay homage to African dance traditions.
Following the performance, Dean introduced the winners of the university’s second annual MLK Oratorical Contest, hosted by Stevens’ Phi Theta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. The competition encouraged New Jersey and New York City students to submit a brief video showcasing their own rendition of one of King’s speeches, or an original speech, song or poem inspired by his legacy. Winners were chosen across four educational levels and included Pavit Thakker, a middle schooler; ZewdeiNesh Gowdie, a high schooler; Moyosola Omole, a Stevens software engineering undergraduate; and Joseph Ibiwoye, a Stevens management master’s program student. Each student was invited to perform their winning entry at the event, met by enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
Jacob Agbata, a fourth-year electrical engineering major who also holds leadership positions within Stevens’ Black Student Union (BSU) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEE) chapter, came to the stage to introduce the morning’s keynote speaker, Tylik McMillan. An acclaimed young civil rights activist and movement strategist, McMillan works to educate lawmakers and corporate stakeholders on the challenges facing communities and advocating for resources and policies that advance economic and social equality.
McMillan urged the audience — especially Stevens students — to stand up for what they deserve, rather than staying quiet for fear of making others uncomfortable. “There is a generation of people, born and unborn, who are counting on you to make a difference in this moment,” he said. “Uncomfortability is how we push forward.”
After the breakfast, volunteers went to work in a variety of service activities on- and off-campus. At the Babbio Center, participants assembled more than 200 hygiene kits, wrote 350 letters to elders and those in hospice, and made 240 sandwiches to be donated to the Hoboken Shelter.
Off-campus, small teams of Stevens students led STEAM activities for elementary schoolers and a panel discussion for high schoolers at Hoboken Charter School. Volunteers at the Hoboken Public Library assembled community care kits and helped re-shelve books. Other groups took on cleaning, organizing and refurbishing projects at St. Matthew Trinity Lunchtime Ministry, The Hoboken Shelter, Computers4People and Symposia Bookstore.
The event’s closing reception kicked off in the UCC’s TechFlex Auditorium with a spoken word and step performance by “The Crowned,” a group within the BSU that represents the resilience, excellence and creativity of the Black students at Stevens. Second-year music and technology major Valentina Vasquez then came to the stage to sing “Too Beautiful for Words” from The Color Purple — a coming of age story about empowerment and resilience in the face of racism, sexism and trauma.
Following the student performances, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jianmin Qu introduced the closing keynote speaker, Assemblywoman Linda Carter M.S. '00, who represents New Jersey’s 22nd legislative district. In her closing keynote address, Carter shared that her career in public service has long been inspired by King’s legacy and dream of a “beloved community.” When it comes to creating a more equitable world, she emphasized that one does not need to hold an office or a title to make a change.
“Your involvement in local organizations, your voice in community meetings, your efforts in neighborhood clean-ups — all these actions are threads in the fabric of our shared life,” Carter explained. “As we engage in civic duties, we empower ourselves and those around us. It's a cycle of positive influence that starts with an individual and ripples through the community.”