Upbeat gospel music filled Kilworth Chapel in celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminding students of his tremendous achievements and his impact on the world. The 26th celebration of Dr. King’s Day of Service was originally scheduled to occur on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service but was postponed due to snow.
The invocation began with a short speech by ASUPS President Marcus Luther, in which he spoke of collective human beauty and about how much Dr. King believed in that truth.
“Every human being is beautiful,” Luther said.
This theme carried throughout the celebration, most especially during the musical accompaniment of Navele and Friends.
President Ronald Thomas then introduced the night’s featured speaker, Lyle Quasim.
“I love this holiday. It’s important to me,” President Thomas said. He talked about how the Day of Service is always a great way to start the spring semester and send future graduates into the world, where they will be able to live out the ideals that Dr. King espoused.
Thomas related his own story of how he became involved with the civil rights movement in Chicago, participating in various political campaigns that supported the cause. Most college freshmen experience a variety of hardships during their first year away from home, but not many students today could say that they had the same kind of year as Puget Sound’s president.
During his spring break, President Thomas heard of the assassination of Dr. King, and later in June, he received the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
“Those two men became my symbols of hope,” Thomas said.
During his sophomore year he heard of the Kent State killings, watched the Vietnam War and the bombing of Cambodia unfold and attended the funeral for two Black Panther members, Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. He described them as two men who “radicalized a generation.”
President Thomas then told another story; that of Lyle Quasim. A student at the University of Illinois, Quasim became a civil rights activist in college and eventually ended up leaving school in order to devote his time to the cause—a cause inspired by the work of Dr. King.
From there, he was drafted into the Army, but he ignored the call to duty. Eventually, he was discovered and joined the Air Force six days later, stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma. He went to Vietnam and served as a medic, setting up free clinics for wounded soldiers and civilians.
When Quasim returned to the United States he attended the University of Puget Sound and studied sociology. He later joined the Black Panther Party and in 1968 played a part in the crisis of race relations.
Down the road, he became the leader of the State Mental Health Program and in 2010, he became the president of Bates Technical College.
“We are all tied together in the single garment of destiny,” Thomas said, referring to his connection with Quasim.
An amazing story told by President Thomas, it became even more so when Quasim himself took the stand. Not only was he charismatic with a sense of humor, but his words touched everyone in the chapel.
Quasim began by mentioning the music that had been playing earlier, saying “Not everyone likes church, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like church music.”
From there, he addressed something Thomas had said earlier about his service in the military and the charges that were brought against him because he refused to be drafted.
“The problem was, all of them were true,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s great to be at my old school,” he added.
Quasim talked about the Day of Service and how many people have mixed feelings; some positive for what has been accomplished and some disappointed for what hasn’t been done yet.
He described Dr. King’s life and accomplishments, his peaceful demonstrations and his various awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. At age 35, Dr. King was the youngest recipient in history.
Dr. King focused not only on local communities, but also on international civil and domestic rights.
“Dr. King asked us each to lead a meaningful life,” Quasim said. Quasim gave credit to many organizations around Tacoma and also Puget Sound that are already fulfilling Dr. King’s dream. To drive his point further home, Quasim called for the creation of a community in which everyone takes some action in order to do better and solve the problems we have by committing to service. He sought to inspire his audience with four points: “We must have a vision of a life of service… our will must be followed by initiative… we must be persistent… [and] we must have courage.”
“Extend the Day of Service to a life of service,” Quasim said, encouraging students to focus on service on campus.
Before stepping off the podium, Quasim mentioned many great civil rights activists who lived by the ideals that Dr. King expressed, even some of whom sacrificed their lives for the cause. Dr. King set the bar very high, but Quasim reminded the audience that service opportunities are never nonexistent.
“This is our time,” Quasim said, once more reminding students that the Day of Service shouldn’t be limited to a single day and that serving others is indeed a noble pursuit.