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Coming off a year in which community has been deeply sought, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will host multiple events to come together, build community, and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“We look forward to celebrating Dr. King’s legacy through a number of events throughout the month of January. While the work continues throughout the year, the MLK holiday provides space to reflect on our collective responsibility to humanity,” said Shea Kidd Houze, associate vice chancellor of student life and dean of students. “Given the various intersections that have challenged us over the past year, coming together as a community for this day elevates the holiday’s significance even further.”

UT will host a series of events throughout January, both virtual and in person:

  • Beginning Monday, January 18, celebrations will open with an interactive photo montage from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Student Union. Participants can have their picture taken in person or submit a photo on Twitter using the hashtag #MLKUTK21 to have their photo added to a mosaic display. At a program beginning at 11:30 a.m., participants can hear from campus leaders including Chancellor Donde Plowman and Student Body President Karmen Jones.
  • January 18 at 2 p.m., the Commission for Blacks will host an interactive virtual panel discussion. LaToya Eaves, assistant professor of geography, and Deborah Porter, Knoxville community leader and UT alumna, will serve as panelists, both speaking to King’s true legacy and how it is presented to the public. Participants will be encouraged to join the conversation and share their own perspectives.
  • The campus community is encouraged to participate in the city of Knoxville’s community discussion from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, January 18, hosted by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission. The virtual forum will provide a space for fellowship and conversation. Registration is required.
  • On Wednesday, January 27, at 7 p.m. the university’s 35th annual MLK Celebration will take place, hosted by the Office of Multicultural Student Life and the Black Cultural Programing Committee. This year’s keynote speaker is Eddie Glaude Jr., the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. Participants can attend in person or virtually.

In addition to MLK Day celebrations, the Jones Center for Leadership and Service will host its annual MLK Jr. Days of Service January 25 through February 5. Students, faculty, and staff can sign up in small groups to volunteer in the greater Knoxville area over the two-week period. Historically this event has been held in one day, but given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, service opportunities are spread out to better serve students and the community. Morning and afternoon sessions are available, and each small group will be accompanied by a Jones Center ambassador who will lead reflection and help participants understand the greater impact of the work accomplished.

Denee Freeman, a junior who is the student coordinator for the Jones Center, helped organized the days of service. She highlights that the event offers a great opportunity for students to take action and live out Volunteer values taught across campus.

“MLK Jr. Days of Service are a really great way for students to get involved beyond the UT bubble—as in being a volunteer outside of the classroom and outside of this campus early on. It also teaches us that a lot of times we don’t need to look any further than our own backyard to find places where we can be volunteers,” Freeman said.

Community partners and the Jones Center have collaborated to ensure participants’ safety. Masks will be required, and all service sites will be held outdoors or in spaces that allow for adequate social distancing.

“We all benefit from strong communities. You can’t get through any type of pandemic alone. I think a day of service helps us show that we care about community and that it’s something that we are all responsible for,” said Laura Ketola, assistant director of the Jones Center.

UT has been hosting MLK Jr. Days of Service since 2002, but it’s not just another opportunity for students to check off service hours. Ketola stresses the greater meaning behind the event, noting that while volunteering in MLK’s memory is admirable, truly honoring his legacy needs to involve intentional acts of service and reflection.

“We never want to boil down the work that he did to say ‘Now we’re going to go do service for a couple hours’ and act like that’s the same thing,” Ketola said. “That is nothing compared to the fight that he had for racial justice, but I think that it’s hopefully putting into action some of the things that he fought for and believed, like serving others and realizing that we’re all responsible for making the world a better place—it doesn’t just happen.”

Students, faculty, and staff can sign up to serve during the MLK Jr. Days of Service on the Jones Center website. For a full list of MLK events, see the UT campus calendar.


Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,