South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) Foundation and the Thurston Group of Washington State are partnering to host the annual MLK Banquet held at SPSCC on January 19. The banquet serves to honor the memory of civil rights hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The banquet embodies SPSCC’s core them of advancing equity and embracing diversity.

SPSCC MLK Banquet Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough on Surging HBCU Enrollments
Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, President of Dillard University in New Orleans, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s MLK Banquet. Photo courtesy: SPSCC

The event will include a keynote address from Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, a presentation of scholarships to local high school and SPSCC students, and the recognition of local businesses and individuals involved in the community. Barbara, who is a retired SPSCC trustee of 14 years and a member of the Thurston Group of Washington, and her husband Virgil Clarkson have been heavily involved with the banquet since the former hosting organization disbanded. “Both my husband and I have been doing this event for the past 19 years,” says Barbara. “And about four years ago Dr. Timothy Stokes from SPSCC said he could assist us with it and so that is when it came over to South Puget Sound Community College.

Barbara believes that the banquet serves as an important memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. It is a reminder to follow his message in the modern world and in the Thurston County community. “Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a nationally recognized holiday,” she explains. “It is celebrated throughout the country and this is something we do for Thurston County. It is a county wide event, not just at the school, but it is for the community as a whole. And we feel that the community would benefit from the event itself and listening to the speakers. Each year we have had different speakers and they bring in a different point of view that is all to recognize the work of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

SPSCC MLK Banquet Barbara Clarkson Thurston Group of Washington
Barbara Clarkson is associated with both the Thurston Group of Washington and SPSCC. The goal of the Thurston Group is to encourage higher education for all students. Photo courtesy: Barbara Clarkson

While honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the banquet also provides a valuable opportunity for SPSCC students to meet and connect with professionals in the working world. Students engaged in SPSCC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Center (DEIC) are particularly impacted. The DEIC is a diverse, inclusive group that supports and welcomes all students at the SPSCC campus. The DEIC also offers unique programs for historically underrepresented populations, such as the IGNITE Program launched this fall by the SPSCC Foundation to help close the achievement gap some students in Thurston County face. “Students from the IGNITE Program with GPAs above 3.0 attend the MLK Banquet,” says Parfait Bassalé. “They get to network with community members and leaders.”

The event is an investment towards the future by providing academic opportunities for the younger generation. “Because of its mission to remove barriers that prevent vulnerable and marginalized populations from achieving their academic dreams, the DEIC is grateful for the MLK Banquet for all it brings to our students,” says Bassalé. “The scholarships, the networking and empowerment are invaluable.”

SPSCC MLK Banquet Scholarship Recipients Thurston Group of Washington
Students from both SPSCC and local high schools receive scholarships at the MLK Banquet. Photo courtesy: SPSCC

A highlight of the evening is the presentation of scholarships to local students. The mission of the Thurston Group is to encourage continuing education in youth and the MLK Banquet is a natural opportunity to celebrate the future generation. Barbara explains that the Thurston Group of Washington State is involved in helping local youth achieve academic success. “We have sent over 800 kids from the Northwest to school. They have been offered over $8 million in scholarships. We offer two scholarships to students from SPSCC and at least a minimum of three scholarships to students from public schools: Olympia, North Thurston and Tumwater High School. What we’ve always done is to try to get students to go beyond high school.”

The keynote speaker, Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, is a nationally recognized academic, known for his writings on historically black colleges and universities as well as African American men at university. Barbara sought out a keynote speaker that extended beyond the Pacific Northwest because of the fresh perspective that can be offered. “One of my favorite parts is the keynote speaker because they will bring in a point of view to the local community that we might not otherwise have,” she explains.

To learn more about the MLK Banquet and for ticket information, visit the South Puget Sound Community College website. To learn more about the scholarships and programs available to students, visit the SPSCC Foundation website.



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