Pitt students use MLK Day to give back to community
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.