Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors a great man. But it’s also “a day on, not a day off” and “the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities,” explains NationalService.gov. Locally, South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) holds an annual MLK event sponsored by Olympia Federal Savings (OlyFed) intended to educate, inform and inspire.
In the past, guest speakers and scholarship recipients were invited to share their stories through an event that was open to the public. Though things will be different during COVID‐19 restrictions, 2021’s virtual eventis free and will be held January 19 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sign up online to gain access. They will honor this year’s scholarship recipients, discuss equity and inclusion work going on at SPSCC, and answer questions. John a. powell, director of the Othering and Belonging Institute and professor of law, African American, and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is this year’s guest speaker.
The celebration is a community partnership between OlyFed, the Thurston Group of Washington State— an organization led by Barbara and Virgil Clarkson that provides scholarships for students of color in our community—and SPSCC.
Barbara Clarkson is proud to have helped create this vital event, though this year’s is bittersweet. Her brother, Larry Jenkins, who founded the Thurston Group in 1994, passed away on December 19, 2020; however, she continues to prepare and facilitate so students, faculty and community can carry on.
“As more individuals and families move into Thurston County, it is important to remember that education is everyone’s business,” says Clarkson. “Our community cannot afford to leave anyone behind. We have to use our voices and efforts to show support for those organizations and leaders who believe that our young people deserve more from our education system in the future. We sincerely want our students to thrive in life and feel empowered to make a positive impact, and they can with the right opportunities.”
OlyFed is proud to be a sponsor, ally and advocate. “At OlyFed, we recognize academics not only open the door to opportunity, but it also helps open minds to new ideas and new ways of thinking, which ultimately creates innovative and thoughtful leaders who make communities, like ours, healthy and strong,” says Sandy DiBernardo, VP and marketing director.
“Locally, there are probably no two people more influential and passionate about positive social change in our community than Barbara and Virgil Clarkson,” DiBernardo shares. “For decades, they have challenged our community to make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority when it comes to health, well‐being and culture of our region. It has truly been an honor to work with these two amazing individuals, they are an inspiration!”
Their passion led to the development of SPSCC’s A. Barbara Clarkson Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Center, which strives to embrace diversity. They offer a podcast, workshops, conferences, equity programming and work with all students towards inclusivity.
As with most successful partnerships, there are interconnections. “What I love about being on the Board with the SPSCC Foundation is that it supports scholarships for my fellow community members who are wanting to gain new skills, abilities and knowledge, which opens doors for them while improving our local economy,” Carrie Whisler, SVP and chief credit officer with OlyFed says. “I think that the community college is so vital to our economic development efforts because it continually looks at future employment gaps, innovation opportunities and industry disruptions to determine curriculums, programs and resources needed to make our area and its people competitively ready to serve these needs. It’s also community partnerships that help bring more voices to the table to serve a diverse group of people and needs.”
Barbara Clarkson says it best: “It takes team work to make the dream work. Dr. Martin Luther King talked about his dream; our students also talk about their dream. Thurston County has great examples of school/community partnerships that are happening all over. We need more of them, and we need to ensure they are healthy and relevant to the needs of 21st century learners. My hope is that education is protected from short-term politics and that we can implement positive and sustainable change by working together. From community leaders, teachers, parents, students and financial institution; sustainable change needs inclusive and collaborative engagement.”
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, dedicate yourself to change. Though being active in the community is limited at present, set aside time to support, encourage or learn something new. Do your part, whatever that may be.