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Students highlight education at MLK CommUnity Peace Brunch

Students, faculty and other Mount Pleasant residents gathered in Finch Fieldhouse on Monday for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. CommUnity Peace Brunch. 

The brunch is held every year to commemorate King, the civil rights leader who stood against discrimination and equal treatment for people of all colors. Guests were treated to a buffet of bacon, eggs, pancakes, fruit and other foods.

D'Wayne Jenkins, assistant director of Multicultural Academic Student Services, said he chose to refer to the holiday as a "day on" to encourage people to participate. 

"Dr. King was about giving back," Jenkins said. "It's important that we recognize and honor that, and keep that dream alive."

Three students participated in an oratorical contest, each delivering a speech written to answer the question, "Is the education of African American students as important today as it was during the Civil Rights Movement?"

Graduate student DaLaun Dillard of Battle Creek came in first place with his speech "Education is the Major Key." In his speech Dillard brought attention to economically isolated schools and institutionalized racism. 

"Equality in this day and age still isn't equal," Dillard said. 

Dillard also raised concerns over the Flint water crisis and President-elect Donald Trump's behavior. 

"In four years we will need a president with actual political experience," he said.

Freshman Caitlin Crutcher came in second place with her speech 'A Future to Believe in." Crutcher focused on inequality between black and white students in schools nationwide, and the need to adjust education accordingly. 

"People have become complacent with the current state of education," Crutcher said. "The goal of academic equality has yet to be achieved."

Senior Johnnie Buck finished in third place. Although he was originally scheduled to read a speech titled "What's Changed?" he chose to read a new speech titled "Be the Change: Education as a Weapon and Tool." Buck said he made the change after being encouraged by Jenkins to try something new.

Buck focused on the importance of education in bringing down barriers to opportunities, but also encouraged his audience to be skeptical of how education can be misused, citing how dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein educated their populations to believe what they said. 

All three speakers were granted scholarships for their participation. Other performances came from School of Music Professor LaToya Lain who sang, "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord," Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity King Jr. joined, and the Christ Central Choir.

The keynote speaker was Russell Harris, principal of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit. Harris shared his own experience trying to get an education in Chicago while part of a single-parent family with eight brothers and sisters. 

After the brunch, students were invited to the Bovee University Center Rotunda for the MLK Day of Service sponsored by the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center. Students were encouraged to participate in volunteer opportunities to honor King's legacy. 

"Service is so important because getting to know your community is so advantageous for your life," said Lauren Lynn, student coordinator for the center.