Standing on the same dais from which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke during the civil rights movement, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos charged more than 300 college students gathered Saturday at Fisk University to live out the civil rights leader’s legacy.
“We are here as part of the beloved community to serve each other,” Zeppos said during the opening ceremonies at Fisk Memorial Chapel for the annual MLK Joint Day of Service. “We are grateful to Fisk for hosting this event today and for 150 years of showing us how to put a path forward in the face of historic tragedies and resistance.”
College students from area colleges and universities, including Belmont, Fisk, Lipscomb, Nashville State, Trevecca Nazarene and Vanderbilt, spent the afternoon volunteering with food security projects across Nashville.
The day of service was part of a weekend of events marking MLK Day.
Before the event began, the ebullient crowd swayed in the pews of the historic chapel, singing along to a track of Michael Jackson songs. They cheered Zeppos as he danced along with “Man in the Mirror,” which includes the lyrics “If you wanna make the world a better place/Take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
“In my experience, it is we who serve who benefit from doing service,” Zeppos said. “It opens your heart, it connects us in a way that’s different from our everyday experiences. This is a way of life, this is a way of loving — this is what I’m about.”
Frank Sims, Fisk’s interim president, and Bob Fisher, Belmont’s president, also spoke, reminding the students that their service would impact their lives, and that the opportunity to serve should be viewed as a privilege.
Freedom Rider Ernest “Rip” Patton Jr., who was the drum major at Tennessee State University in 1961 when he joined the civil rights movement, spoke to the audience about his experiences fighting segregation in the 1960s. He was arrested as part of the Freedom Ride to Jackson, Mississippi, and was expelled from TSU for his participation in the rides. He reminded the students that the future was in their hands and encouraged them to stand up to oppression.
“I’ll be looking for you in the news,” he said.