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Pitt students use MLK Day to give back to community

| Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, 4:18 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Brandon Nelson, 20, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh cleans a stairwell at the Stephen Foster Community Center in Lawrenceville on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. More than 1,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni participated in the University of Pittsburgh's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service: A Day On, Not a Day Off. Nelson says speaking of Martin Luther King Jr., 'He's someone who devoted his life for others. It's cool in his remembrance to serve others. Even a little task can help out in a big way.'
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Camille Sturdivant, 20, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, paints cabinets at Stephen Foster Community Center in Lawrenceville on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. More than 1,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni participated in the University of Pittsburgh's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service: A Day On, Not a Day Off. Sturdivant says speaking of Martin Luther King Jr., 'He gave his life for his cause. The least I can do is to get up early on a Monday to do something for my community.'
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Janiisa Stephens, 7, of East Liberty, creates poetry on the wall at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, as part of the seventh annual 'East Liberty Celebrates MLK' events throughout the neighborhood on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Community organizations came together with local artists, performers, schools, and activists to showcase activities, music, and performances free of charge to the public, part of festivities throughout the East End to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Members of the Hope Academy Teen Theater Co. talk backstage before singing 'Glory' at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater as a part of the 'East Liberty Celebrates MLK' events throughout the neighborhood on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. From left to right are Kennedi Williams, 13, of Friendship, Kira Mukogosi, 11, of Squirrel Hill, Dorothy Crow, 12, of Stanton Heights, Kyra Simmons, 12, of East Liberty, and Emily Khuu, 13, of Highland Park.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Darrell Kinsel of Boom Concepts reviews his notes backstage as he prepares to emcee a series of performances during 'East Liberty Celebrates MLK' at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Behind him, choreographer and artist Anthony Williams of the Hill District prepares to perform an excerpt of his ballet 'Loving Black.' The performances reflected the theme 'With Audacious Faith in Our Future—East Liberty Looking Forward,' wrapping up several days of MLK celebrations across the neighborhood.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Anqwenique Wingfield, right, 28, of South Oakland, leads vocal exercises to warm up singers from Hope Academy Teen Theater Co. backstage at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 in East Liberty. The group was a part of the 'East Liberty Celebrates MLK' events throughout the neighborhood that stretched over the weekend and culminated on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday with performances, activities, and discussions.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Luke Field, 3, of Morningside, plays with his mother, Jessica, 41, as he works on making a birthday crown for the 'Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Bash' at the Mattress Factory on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The museum's annual celebration included birthday cake, Pandemic Pete spinning tunes, and crafts alongside pay-what-you-want admission to the collection.

While some took the day off, many University of Pittsburgh students used Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday to give back to the community as well as reflect on social and civil rights issues still plaguing society.

“If MLK were here today, he'd be proud that we've come so far,” said Pitt sophomore Pete Zheng, 20, of McCandless. “But there still is a lot of work to be done.”

For Zheng, who is of Chinese descent, racism remains one of the issues most in need of correction. For others who participated in Pitt's annual MLK Day of Service, other types of discrimination joined poverty and crime as areas where society can do better.

“One that often gets overlooked is people with disabilities,” said Billy Hinard, 19, a sophomore from Chicago. “The lack of understanding is something people need to get over.

“We all have obstacles. We all have something to overcome to reach our goals.”

While Pitt, many schools and most government offices were closed, more than 1,000 Pitt students, faculty, staff, alumni and family members participated in more than 30 projects on and off campus. They made quilts and sleeping mats for the homeless, loaded backpacks with food for low-income children and activity bags for children in local hospitals, and participated in a “sensory caterpillar” exercise with children who have autism.

Others painted and cleaned the Stephen Foster Community Center in Lawrenceville, helped Computer Reach in Point Breeze, visited the elderly at a VA center in Lincoln-Lemington and helped prepare meals for children at Repair the World in East Liberty.

“It shows their dedication. It shows that they think bigger than just themselves,” said Misti McKeehen, director of the Office of PittServes. “We want (students) to focus on their education but also to be part of the community.”

Pitt's community of student organizations and the region's countless nonprofit agencies make it difficult not to know about things going on and ways to get involved, said Maia Krivoruk, 20, a junior social work major from Harrington Park, N.J.

“There's something always going on,” she said.

Among the topics Krivoruk and other students discussed were social justice for refugees and the Hill District's high crime and poverty rate.

“That is the neighborhood right next to Oakland,” she said. “That interesting dynamic both physically and socially is one we as a campus should do more about.”

Other issues also are important, Krivoruk said.

“Racism still exists. Sexism still exists. Classism still exists,” she said. “It's definitely dwindled. Each day is a day to prove yourself, to make those important relationships.

“There is always work to be done.”

Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or

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