Hiram College

Hiram College students will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20, 2014, by partaking in a day of service with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.

The focus of the program will be storytelling: Hiram College students will interact with the Boys & Girls club members (Cleveland-area students over the age of 13), telling individual stories about persisting through high school and getting to college.

“They’ll be telling candid stories about getting through,” said Detra West, associate dean of students and director of diversity and inclusion. “Some have had incredible challenges.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of America offer after-school support programs in study and life skills, to keep teens off the streets. The organization’s mission is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Normally, Hiram College hosts a speaker for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but West said as students were planning for the event, they decided they wanted to do something active. They were struck by the statistic that 7,200 students drop out of high school each day (according to a national Diplomas Count 2010 report in “Education Week”), and decided to take action on that front.

In 1994, Congress designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national day of service, as a “way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems,” according to the Day of Service website.

The work Hiram College students are engaging in does just that, West said, because education is the foundation to getting out of poverty, something King focused on at the end of his life. She thinks the Hiram College students’ stories will be a powerful message for these Cleveland-area teens.

“Adults can speak to students forever, but they’ll believe their peers,” West said. “Many Hiram students are from the area and have had similar challenges as a kid there. They’ll be able to make that connection.”

Throughout the day, the Hiram students will engage in both one-on-one conversations and a panel discussion.  When they return to campus, around 7 p.m., the students will hold an informal talkback session in the Kennedy Center Lounge, open to all interested in hearing about their work.

Any student interested in participating in this service project can sign up at the Kennedy Center Welcome Desk by Jan. 15, 2014.