Local college students help out for MLK Day in Houghton schools

HOUGHTON — Students from Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University taught local elementary school students about the legacy of Martin Luther King Monday, as well as contributing through other service projects.

At Houghton Elementary School, Tech staff member Angela Hoffman read picture books on King to Laurel Givens’ first-grade class.

The books spanned his childhood in Georgia, his decision to enter the ministry, his civil rights activism, and ultimately his assassination in 1968.

The latter point dominated the post-reading question period. Students asked what happened to his murderer, James Earl Ray, who eventually died in prison while serving a 99-year sentence. Students were also taken aback by how young King was when he was killed.

“39?” one student said. “That’s younger than my mom.”

Hoffman said the students had great questions.

“It was clear from the questions they were asking that they were grappling with these issues of ‘Why would someone harm another person without reasons?’ and seeing their processing of realizing the troubled history our nation has and seeing them through that,” she said.

Logan McMillan, a fourth-year chemical engineering student at Tech who read to students, said if students are exposed to conversations about race now, they’ll be better able to understand the issue relate to other people.

“Ultimately it does come down to choosing a side – are you with racism or against it?” McMillan said. “I think it’s nice to talk to them at a young age. That way they can grow up and choose what side they want to choose.”

Finlandia students were also on hand to read to students as well as helping out with gym and arts classes.

“It’s just one of the most important things, because what he was fighting for was equality among all people, no matter the color of your skin,” said Connor Bates, a sports management freshman at Finlandia. “That’s still an important issue today.”

Principal Anders Hill said the school has emphasized King’s ideas of serving others and treating people with respect.

“Too much of what we think kids get is what we say, and really it’s what we do,” Hill said. “I know our staff models service and helping others and helping each other, but seeing young adults come in and model that idea of giving back, i think is more important than anything we could say to them.”

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