More than 700 students gathered in Kean Hall Saturday before being bused to various locations throughout Nashville to volunteer as part of the annual Joint Day of Service in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Students from several institutions throughout the city registered for the event and enjoyed an early lunch before being greeted by university leaders and hearing Freedom Rider and TSU Alum Ernest ‘Rip’ Patton share inspiring words about his experience as a civil rights activist.
“This is your day, and this is your time to make a change because what we did in the 60s, we did if for generations to come,” said Patton, who attended Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial University, where he served as drum major with the Aristocrat of Bands. Patton was one of 14 students expelled from Tennessee A&I by the Tennessee Board of Regents for taking part in the Freedom Rides. He subsequently received an honorary doctorate from TSU in 2008.
“I did it for you. I’m using ‘I’ as a plural. I made a change for you. I took a chance on my life. I went to jail. I went to prison. And I’m still out there trying to make a change, but it’s up to you to carry the torch,” he said. “And not only that, when you make a change, you are making it for the generations that come after you.”
Shirley Nix-Davis, director of Outreach for TSU’s Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement, said bringing the students together for this service activity gives them an opportunity to consider the importance of service and how they can help others.
“It’s important to bring the students together just because that was one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dreams, to see every race, every ethnicity, every color of person come together for one cause,” said Nix-Davis.
Volunteers were dispersed to work at 25 sites throughout the city, including Salama Urban Ministries, Schrader Lane Vine Hill Child Care Center, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and Tennessee Prison Outreach Ministries.
Participating educational institutions included TSU, Meharry Medical College, Fisk University, Lipscomb University, Vanderbilt University, Belmont University Trevecca Nazarene University and Nashville State Community College.
Brittanie Pruitt, a sophomore nursing major from Covington, Tennessee, who returned after participating in the day of service last year, said community service is critical.
“It’s definitely important to give back. Everybody needs a helping hand,” said Pruitt who spent her afternoon with a group of 25 volunteers organizing classrooms at Harvest Hands Community Development, a nonprofit organization that provides after-school programming in South Nashville. “You might need help one day, so it’s always important to give back.”
Chartrice Crowley, director of Elementary Programs at Harvest Hands, said the volunteers helped organize a collage, featuring Freedom Riders from Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi as well as the organization’s Historically Black College and Universities’(HBCU) classrooms.
“All of our classrooms where our kids are when they arrive here are named after HBCUs,” said Crowley who graduated from TSU in 2015 with a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. “The volunteers are working on the information that will go outside the classroom about the founding of the school, their athletic programs, famous graduates, and all of that.”
Nix-Davis, who served as co-chair of the event along with Vanderbilt University Assistant Director of Active Citizenship and Service Meagan Smith, said 326 of 715 students who signed up for the event were TSU students.
“I am really, really pleased about the turn out because it is raining,” she said. “We have some eager students who are ready to go out and do their thing for their universities.”
Other dignitaries in attendance at the morning kick-off included Congressman Jim Cooper, state Sen. Brenda Gilmore and Metro Council member Burkley Allen.