The Martin Luther King holiday and the February celebration of Black History Month always provide occasions for reflection on our nation’s history as well as on the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and society. Last year, the King holiday coincided with the historic inauguration of our first president of color. Regardless of our differing beliefs and backgrounds, most Americans rejoiced in a development that few expected to see in their lifetime. And at Alvernia, hundreds gathered in our newly renovated student center to share this historic moment together.
There was no equally momentous event this year. Instead, we were subjected to endless speculation and post-mortems about the President’s first State of the Nation address amidst the specter of a political culture that is bitterly partisan and often uncivil. But at Alvernia, in contrast, there is as usual much that is uplifting, even inspirational.
Our newest tradition of three annual Days of Service, organized by staff in Campus Ministry and the Holleran Center, is catching on fast. Building on the initial service day celebrating the Feast of St. Francis, the second such event, on an all-university holiday, produced a celebration worthy of Dr. King--not a day off but a day on--a day of responding to some pressing community needs. Over 180 Alvernia students, staff, and faculty stepped up, spreading their time and talent around Reading at numerous agencies and non-profit organizations. Stay tuned for the third service day, linked to Earth Day.
Two weeks later came an unforgettable kick-off event for Alvernia’s 2010 Black History Month. Organized by the Office of Multicultural Initiatives, with several campus and community co-sponsors, it was a truly momentous evening. An overflow crowd gathered to honor the contributions of the Tuskeegee Airmen, genuine heroes and social pioneers. Seldom in my years on college campuses have I seen a crowd so mesmerized by guest speakers. From Dr. Richardson’s account of racism in the military (and throughout American society) and the persistence and the stunning effectiveness of the Airmen to the anecdotes of the panel of WW II veterans to the moving posthumous tribute to Reading’s own Airman, Roosevelt Miller, the evening included historical lessons and poignant tributes. That the University community was joined by so many from the area, including prominent African-American leaders, made it even more special.
For many in my generation (the infamous Baby Boomers), the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and early 60s was a catalyzing event for social awareness and activism. But this era was a time also for consciousness-raising about other forms of discrimination, such as inequities based on gender. As part of the University Life Division’s comprehensive approach to recognizing (and respecting) differences as well as similarities of background and experience, Campus Ministry, Multicultural Initiatives, and Student Activities will be launching the St. Clare Series on Gender Equity later this spring, appropriately named for the great female saint who, with Francis, guided the earliest days of the Franciscan movement eight hundred years ago. This year’s events include a documentary, “Women in War Zones” and a panel on the Gender Equity Act of 2010. Stay tuned for this and other similarly important additions to our campus life.
Events like the tribute to the Tuskeegee Airmen and the King Holiday, by affirming recent social progress, provide inspiration, to be sure. But they should also serve as sobering reminders of inequities and injustice, past and present, close at hand and around the globe. They should inspire us to help shape a more humane world. Perhaps they might also challenge and sharpen our motivations for service. At Alvernia, service is not (or should not be) only about “random acts of kindness,” valuable though they are. Franciscan values call us to “service for justice”--to make a long-term difference for those on the margins of society, those who are victims of discrimination and other forms of injustice, even oppression. For Christians and for many other women and men of good will, whatever their faith journeys, the life of St. Francis and his Christlike embrace of the poor and the outcast (remember his outreach to lepers!) shapes our call to serve.
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn