University cancels classes for day of service to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day

By Fiona O'Brien | January 15, 2020 9:21pm

Martin Luther King Jr. at the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C. in Aug. 1963 / Photo by Rowland Scherman. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For the first time at the University of Portland, classes will be canceled on Jan. 20 to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Moreau Center and the Office of Student Activities have organized a “Day On,” instead of an extra day off. They have planned service opportunities in the morning and a keynote speaker in the afternoon to carry on Martin Luther King’s legacy and vision of a just world. UP students, staff members and professors now have the opportunity to fully celebrate the day.  

“The whole goal of MLK Day around the nation is to go out into your community and give service, so we are staying true to that mission by exposing our students, faculty and staff to expand beyond the bubble of UP,” said Yuri Hernández Osorio, the coordinator of diversity and inclusion programs. “There are communities out there that we really want them to engage with.”

The Black Student Union at UP (BSU) has traditionally participated in a day of service for MLK day. However, according to Brown, they had to get permission from Provost Thomas Greene to miss class. 

Former President of BSU Melissa Allen helped plan the events for MLK Day as a member of the committee spearheading the first-ever Day On. Allen has always helped plan the holiday’s events for BSU, but she said this year is special. 

“It’s really overwhelming, but also really cool to see all of the different groups who have helped plan MLK day this year,” Allen said. 

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be multiple service opportunities organized by the Moreau Center. The service events are open to all UP community members, including alumni, faculty and staff. Participants can RSVP on Engage

“Some of the activities will be deep cleaning, gardening, filing, putting together manuals,” said Tshombe Brown, the Moreau Center program coordinator. “Some of the organizations that I do know that included are Grow Portland, Leaven Community and Community of Hope.” 

Before the service event, there will be a follow-up email where participants can choose their top three locations to volunteer. According to Brown, people will be assigned to different organizations based on the organization’s capacity and what participants want out of the event. 

There will be free transportation to the sites, as well as a free lunch provided after the day of service in the Pilot House. Brown and Hernández Osorio wanted to make the Day On as accessible as possible. There will be child care signups available on Engage for those who want to participate as well.

At 3:30 p.m., Oregon native and activist Walidah Imarisha will give a keynote presentation in the Buckley Center Auditorium. She will be speaking about why there are few black people in Oregon, and how this relates to the UP community. Attendees will be able to ask her questions after the speech. UP alum Julianne Johnson will be singing the song “Glory” to open for Imarisha. Johnson will be accompanied by UP band and choir members, according to Hernández Osorio.

University President Fr. Mark Poorman announced that classes would be canceled last February, as part of the school fulfilling Vision 2020. One goal from Vision 2020 is to “infuse our entire community with a sense of internationalization and diversity.”

In his email to the school, Poorman said, “Faculty, staff and students will have the day off to reflect on the important work of Dr. King’s life and the work we have left to do. I invite you to use that time to recommit to building diversity and inclusion in our campus community and beyond and to use that day to act in service to others.” 

Hernández Osorio emphasized that the planning of MLK Day On was a combined effort between students, faculty and staff. They created a committee to collectively decide who the speaker was, and what the day of service was going to be like. 

“There are a lot of reasons why it is happening now, but the important part is that we are honoring it and authentically honoring it. This event, although Tshombe and I have played a role in organizing it, we also have a committee backing us up,” Hernández Osorio said. “The committee is composed of faculty, students and staff, so it’s a pretty diverse committee. We reviewed potential speakers, potential ideas for how the event will flow. At the end of the day, it’s not Tshombe and I making executive decisions, it’s distributed well.” 

Brown and Hernández Osorio want to set a high standard for UP’s first MLK Day and encourage everyone to participate in at least one event. 

“I want people to feel like they are invited to come versus forced to come,” Hernández Osorio emphasized. “I really want to encourage folks to recognize this beautiful day … just to put themselves out there because it’s really worthwhile.”

Fiona O'Brien is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at