Empathy, outreach key themes at Martin Luther King Jr. event

The words of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech blared overhead from a speaker system, the rest of the room quiet.

"I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.


"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

And while the crowd may have been smaller and the speaker different, the words rang out and amazed the audience, the same as they did more than 50 years ago.

On Monday, the words came from Nelson Dorsey, member of the Carroll County chapter of the NAACP. Dorsey, and others in the local chapter, spent their day speaking and teaching about King's importance in history.

The eighth annual A Day On, Not A Day Off event brought in about 25 students this year, said Judy Jones, supervisor of equity and community outreach with Carroll County Public Schools. The event is sponsored by CCPS, McDaniel College, Carroll County NAACP, and the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Peace and Nonviolence.

This year, students focused not just on King's work with the civil rights movement, but also his work helping those in poverty. Monday's event focused on the 1968 Poor People's Campaign.

John Lewis, former president of Carroll's NAACP and husband to current President Jean Lewis, spoke of traveling to the Poor People's Campaign in Washington in a beat-up pickup truck. Lewis said they worked to bring a lot of young people with them to the campaign.

"It was to expose as many people as possible to the fight for civil rights," he added.

People don't talk about the fight as often as they should in this day and age, Lewis said. There is still a reason for the "soldiers to be in the trenches," he said.

Dorsey, who also attended the campaign all those years ago, spoke about how King truly inspired him. King's work helped him to care about other people, he said.

It's important for all people, especially young people, to find a passion to care about, Dorsey said.

"Find a cause. Give yourself to it. Give your heart to it," he said. "Do what's right. Reach out to someone who's less fortunate than you."

The day — which included lessons about King and his work, and a panel discussion — also worked to get the students involved through hands-on activities. They sang a song with Pam Zappardino, first vice president for Carroll County's NAACP chapter, just as people did during marches and demonstrations in King's era.

They also worked to organize bags for Carroll Food Sunday, the "nonprofit organization of volunteers and members of the community coming together as neighbors helping neighbors by supporting Carroll County residents in meeting their emergency and supplemental food needs," according to its website.

Will Blauch, 17, attended Monday's event. Blauch, a senior at Century High School, said the day was very informative and overall enjoyable. Learning about the Poor People's Campaign was especially important, he said, because it's not as well-known as other things King was involved in.


"I thought it was very important to learn about something like that," he added.

For Blauch, Dorsey's rendition of the "I Have A Dream" speech was one of the best parts. These types of lessons are important, especially in this day and age where people around the world are having their rights violated, he added.

The event's goal is really to help teach unity, empathy, leadership and more, Jones said. It allows kids of all different kinds to come together and appreciate people for who they are.

"The more we can do to bring us together, the better," Jones added.