An African American boy ran around a circle of his peers this morning at a Millsaps College gymnasium, cautiously repeating "Duck— duck—duck," and, finally, "Goose!"
It seems hard to imagine that just a few decades ago the diverse group of children of pre-kindergarteners through 5th grade would have been prohibited from playing together because of their skin color under the legal restrictions of the Jim Crow regime.
Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and as much as the federal and state holiday is about remembering how far we have come from America's past of racial violence, it is also a holiday about remembering where we as a people are going and how we are treating our fellow human beings. And the MLK Day Play-n-Serve, sponsored by Tougaloo College and Millsaps, is a reminder of how our nation has changed and hopes to continue changing.
The daylong Play-n-Serve involves alumni and students from both colleges as well as high school students from Terry and Jim Hill high schools, AmeriCorps VISTA fellows and even students from Hastings College in Nebraska.
Jennifer Lewton-Yates, director of Millsaps' 1 Campus1 Community initiative, said the school's partnership with Tougaloo goes back to the era of the Civil Rights Movement. She believes that the Play-n-Serve helps the colleges remember that institutional relationship and a sense of community. Lewton-Yates knows the day is successful because she "sees different people getting together with no other agenda than to have fun with each other."
George "Chuck" Patterson, director of campus life and adviser for Omega Psi Phi at Tougaloo College, spent much of the morning busily hyping kids up and explaining games.
"[MLK Day] is really about friendship. If we can be friends, we can build community together," Patterson told the Jackson Free Press between rounds of freeze tag.
Patterson added that events like the Play-n-Serve are about trying to teach kids of all backgrounds that their human value is more than color. Another organizer, Cassio Batteast, explained that the goal of the weekend is to promote success and well-being in the next generation.
"It's our duty as men in this community to help (this generation) reach success," said Batteast, who trains mentors and organizes a take-a-young-man-to-church day.
"We want to get men from the community involved with boys so they can see positive role models," he said.
Sarah Cox of Hastings College came from Hayes Center, Neb. She said the diversity she observed during the Play-n-Serve inspires her.
"It's completely different from Nebraska. It's really great for us, since we're studying to be teachers, to be exposed to diversity to help us understand it better in a classroom," Cox said.
Other events planned for the day include:
The Millsaps College and Tougaloo College student governments will co-host a "Meeting of the Minds" beginning at 3 p.m. on the Millsaps campus. The event is designed to build relationships among Millsaps and Tougaloo students.
The MLK Day Service of Praise and Prayer, a joint service between Millsaps College and Tougaloo College, is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the Gertrude C. Ford Academic Complex. Bill Bynum, a Millsaps College trustee and chief executive officer at HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation/Hope Credit Union) will speak, and Millsaps and Tougaloo students will perform gospel music.
The MLK Day Service of Praise and Prayer is free and open to the public. A dessert reception is scheduled after the program in the Lewis Art Gallery, which is located in the Academic Complex.
Following the service, the Tougaloo College chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity will host a candlelight service at 7 p.m. in Woodworth Chapel on the Tougaloo campus.