Tuesday, January 19, 2010


In this post, I wish to talk about how the Martin Luther King ‘day off’ was celebrated here at the University of Wyoming on the 18th day of January 2010. For me, this was a unique experience and I am glad to report that it has changed me in ways I am grateful for.

First off, people celebrate the work and spirit of the Reverend Martin Luther King with a day off. Over here, and I guess in many parts of the US, this message has changed into the following: it’s the Martin Luther King Day On. Now, that’s a pretty cool pun on words but it’s also an indication that people at many levels agree that there is much work to be done yet to concretize social justice in such a manner that all the people of this country and peoples of the world benefit from this beautiful concept.

Secondly, for the first time in my life, I felt I had a chance to give to the community. How did this go? Well, as an academic, I have always served the various institutions at which I worked. I did that primarily through teaching, supervision and representation in local, national and international conferences; I have always considered that whatever we do in the classroom by way of teaching, research and supervision should be based on the concepts of social responsibility, social justice, and the common good. At times, this was my first message especially with classes conducting research, so as to provide a framework that goes beyond rigor in methodology and to instill that research work with an agenda that seeks to address social issues with the explicit aim of elaborating solutions that alleviate pain and identify injustice wherever we can see it in our areas of expertise. That was always at the level of rhetoric and in the confines of one’s area of specialization. In other words, it was more like theoretical work, more like reciting an oath of allegiance without really doing anything about it.

Over the past few days, as the message that commemoration of the life of Dr. King was to be turned into a day of action, I signed up. The University of Wyoming Center for Volunteer Service wanted to make a difference in the lives of the local community through addressing the needs of its less fortunate members of this community who couldn’t afford to weatherize their homes and workplaces. Those who signed up for this day of service were to help with energy saving through sealing windows and doors in residences and workplaces where the cold Wyoming winter was more acutely felt and also through changing light bulbs with more economical ones. About 150 volunteers showed up the Wyoming Union, preparations were made and as many as fifteen teams were dispatched to where they could make a difference in Laramie, out of their own will, desire, and commitment to helping solve real problems.

There are many other aspects I could comment upon, but I wish to get back to the idea of giving back, of leaving the comfort of one’s home, office and the classroom pulpit so to say, the comfortable confines of the academic’s ivory tower, to really go meet people and impact their lives, in the most modest and humble way possible. I guess this is the first time ever I find me among a group of students, interns, administrators, and faculty, led by a student leader, doing something about what we have been theoretically repeating for years on end. This is a great feeling. I am glad ‘community service’ for me is no longer just a beautiful banner to carry and that there will be further chances to put it into practice.

As a result of this action, I feel without hyperbole that I am a changed person. This may seem like a small experience to some, but I believe it has the capacity to change a persons’ worldview; we all live in what is often termed ‘a-me culture’, but being able to disrupt this equation and to donate part of one’s time and energy to social issues with immediate impact on the lives of others is a unique feeling.

What I have learned is more than I can talk about in this brief post, but I will add that in the process, I have also learned how to winterize my own apartment and have come to meet a fine group of people with whom I have spent quality time. In the end, it is correct to say that this was group effort, and that together, we can a make a difference.

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