Despite being granted a day off Monday, dozens of students and volunteers chose to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a day of work, learning and community service.
The sixth annual A Day On, Not a Day Off was held Monday at McDaniel College in Westminster to allow students of all ages to learn more about King's legacy.
"It's a really important event," said Jennifer Marana, director of the Officer for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at McDaniel.
Marana said organizers began discussing lessons and topics for the service day late last summer. Last year students learned about Civil Rights Movement marches and walked down the streets of Westminster holding signs.
This year's event was about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and speakers focused as much on the strategies and tactics used by Civil Rights Movement activists as they did on their successes.
"Nonviolence is not something that we talk about as much, and that's unfortunate," said Pamela Zappardino, co-founder of the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education.
Zappardino told those who attended that protesters attended rigorous training sessions to learn to deal with the hurtful words and physical attacks people could hurl at them while they marched or joined sit-in events.
"You're not going to hit them," she said. "You're not going to hurt them. You're not going to call them names."
She asked the students to imagine how difficult it would be to have someone hit them and then not strike back.
"This was a really hard time in our history," she said. "Change is never easy."
McDaniel freshman Ornella Ngameni said she was not aware activists received such in-depth training on nonviolence.
"I thought I knew everything, but there were actually things that I learned," she said. Ngameni was one of a handful of McDaniel students on campus for winter classes who volunteered to assist with the program.
Veronica Paylor, 11, said she found the discussion about the boycotts and nonviolent protests in the 1950s and 1960s "quite interesting" and learned about elements of the protests she did not know before.
Her brother, Vance Paylor, 14, said he was expecting the presentations to be "the same old, same old," but he heard information new to him, including that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, abbreviated SNCC, was sometimes pronounced "Snick."
"I wasn't really excited to show up here," he said. "Waking up at 8 o'clock wasn't great, but it turned out actually to be fun."
Janae Henson, 12, said King was a big chunk of the United States' history but she never knew about his "Civil Rights family," which she learned about when Sandymount Elementary School teacher Nira C. Taru read from the book "Child of the Civil Rights Movement."
Taru read about the experiences of children who grew up around King and important Civil Rights activists.
"I'm very happy that I did come because I learned a lot from my experience," Henson said.
Zappardino also told students about the problems African Americans faced when they tried to register to vote prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
She gave students an actual literacy test from the state of Louisiana, which she said could be given to anyone who could not prove they had at least a fifth grade education.
Students worked together to try to answer the confusing questions in the 10 minutes allotted, knowing that one wrong answer would have meant failure.
The first challenge on the test was, "Draw a line around the number or letter of this sentence." Number 20 asked the taker to "Spell backwards, forwards."
None of the students finished the 30-part test.
Zappardino explained tests such as the one students saw Monday were just one way those in power tried to prevent African Americans and other minority groups from voting.
"Whenever there is injustice to one group of people, there is a chance we could all be treated unequally," she said.
Zappardino encouraged even the youngest attendees Monday to become informed about elections so they can participate by voting when they turn 18.
"If you don't vote, you have absolutely no say in how your community will move forward," she said.
Zappardino also said the struggle for voting rights did not end in 1965 because 50 years later there are still attempts to disenfranchise potential voters, including voter identification laws.
"This movement is not over," she said. "Laws change more quickly than people do."
At the conclusion of Monday's event, students packed donations of food, cleaning products and personal care items to be donated to the Human Services Program of Carroll County.
"I think what it gives [students] is a sense of what Dr. King was about," said Jean Lewis, president of the Carroll County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Lewis said King's goal was to make the lives of everyone better, not just the lives of African Americans.
Marana said organizers asked students to bring donations Monday after asking Human Services Program what the organization needed most.
"It's about being aware of your community as a whole," she said.
According to Marana, students and even adults can become wrapped up in their day-to-day lives and don't realize the struggles going on close to home.
"It raises awareness that there are things that are bigger than them," she said.
Patricia Levroney, supervisor of Equity and Community Outreach for Carroll County Public Schools, said asking students to bring donations and pack the bags and boxes was a way to make Monday's program hands-on rather than just a lecture.
"We try not to talk too much," she said. "We try to do stuff that's interactive."
Levroney said young people donating their time on a day off from school is big, and the A Day On, Not a Day Offevent has grown each year since its inception in 2009.
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