Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy lives on through students’ volunteer work

“Service is a core pillar in my life because I want to make a difference,” said Catherine White, a fourth-year political science student at the University of Florida (UF). “I care about giving back and creating relationships within my community.”

White has been inspired by helping others for as long as she can remember. Some of her earliest memories of volunteering are from childhood. Growing up, her family often gathered donations and assisted food pantries together.

Her dedication to service only continued to grow when she began college. She started by tutoring younger students at Alachua County Public Schools. Now, White volunteers with Loads of Learning, an organization where she gets to read books to children at local laundromats.

At the university, she is also a team leader for the Florida Alternative Breaks (FAB) program within the Division of Student Life’s Brown Center for Leadership & Service (BCLS). FAB is designed to encourage UF students to live a life of active citizenship through community partnerships, direct service, education and reflection. One of White’s most memorable trips with FAB was when she helped renovate a community center with The Exuma Foundation in Exuma, Bahamas.

To date, White has volunteered for over 275 hours at UF.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most prominent civil rights movement leaders. UF honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) legacy and dedication to service through UF’s MLK Celebration.

The MLK Day of Service, hosted by the BCLS, took place on Jan. 14 and was a part of the wider celebration. The day of service allowed students to pour back into the greater Gainesville community. Around 300 students were in attendance.

Hope Oladipo is also a fourth-year political science student at UF. She began consistently volunteering in high school, and her devotion to service continues. Most of her current volunteer work is through FAB within the BCLS. She is a site leader and acts as a liaison for FAB and the Center for Outdoor Recreation and Education, also known as CORE. Through these programs, she can participate in multiple service-oriented trips.

She tends to let organizations or individuals in the community guide her on how to best “fill the need.”

Oladipo said, “It’s important to listen when asking, ‘how can I help support the work you’re already doing?’”

She thinks the day of service showcases how Dr. King’s dream of creating a beloved community continues to evolve in the United States.

“The MLK Day of Service is an opportunity to honor the memory of someone who made it possible for me to grow into the person I am today,” said Oladipo.

Catherine White (left) and Hope Oladipo (right) at the MLK Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 14. The two students volunteered with the organization Keep Alachua County Beautiful / Photo courtesy of Hope Oladipo

Seven local organizations were available for students to partner with on the day of service. White and Oladipo engaged with Keep Alachua County Beautiful, a nonprofit focused on improving the environment. They planted trees and picked up trash.

“MLK Day of Service is an experience that pulls together a group of people to lessen the impact of particular issues in Gainesville,” said Oladipo. “It was special to be a part of. It strengthens the sense of community that meant so much to Dr. King and means a lot to me.”

BCLS Program Coordinator Anthony Ward organized the MLK Day of Service. He spent the day checking in on the seven volunteer sites to ensure everything was functioning correctly. It’s also his responsibility to give students and community partners everything they need to have a successful day of service.

Ward said the event offers UF students a hands-on way to make a difference. He also considers the “day on, not off” to be a modern tribute to Dr. King’s mission. When students commit to addressing local needs and working to fix them, they can give back to the city they call home during their years at UF.

“We want students to be aware of wide-scale problems and how they affect our local community,” said Ward. “The day of service is an opportunity for students to come together and create positive social change.”

Image of student volunteers with the organization Grow Hub at the MLK Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 14 / UF Student Life photo by Eli Nino

The BCLS’ day of service was one of several events UF hosted to honor the work of MLK. UF’s MLK Celebration is an annual initiative under the direction of the Center for Inclusion & Multicultural Engagement within the Division of Student Life. All of its events were available to students, staff, faculty and the wider Gainesville population from the opening ceremony on Jan. 11 until the closing ceremony on Jan. 18.

The Division of Student Life collaborated with departments and student organizations across UF for the celebration. The Black Student Union, African American Studies program, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Office of the Chief Diversity Officer and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service contributed efforts to the initiative.

The Associate Director for the Center for Inclusion & Multicultural Engagement Nathalie Turenne said the MLK Celebration honors the work of every individual who fought for civil rights. Although each activist doesn’t have a dedicated day to commemorate their work, the celebration highlights all efforts toward creating a better future.

“We hope Dr. King’s legacy inspires students to participate in their community and find their voice,” said Turenne. “Students are here to learn academically, but also to learn from other people. Hopefully, the celebration will empower students to speak up for themselves and injustice in their communities.”

Dr. King’s mission will continue to live on through the individuals who serve in the spirit of creating a better world.

Writer: Karter Nancy,

Sources: Anthony Ward,;
Nathalie Turenne,;
Catherine White;
Hope Oladipo