UAMS Celebration of MLK Encourages Attendees to Serve

By Spencer Watson

“Today I want to talk about how Dr. King taught us to serve. In a 1963 sermon entitled ‘Strength to Love,’ he said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?’” said UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, in a recorded message played at the event. “At UAMS, we seek to answer that question daily by providing care, education and research for the people of Arkansas and beyond. Service is at the very core of our culture.”

Brian Gittens, Ed.D., vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, continued on the same theme.

UAMS mascot Reddie visits the volunteer fair, where attendees could sign up to volunteer with local nonprofit and civic organizations.

UAMS mascot Reddie visits the volunteer fair, where attendees could sign up to volunteer with local nonprofit and civic organizations.Bryan Clifton

“’Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,’” Gittens said, quoting King. “That, for Dr. King, was the great equalizer. Service. Our potential as human beings to be of assistance to one another. That’s what I want everyone to think about as we celebrate King today. How can I be of service?”

Gittens shared some of the work his division is doing to serve UAMS and the community UAMS serves. It is creating a working group to advise strategy and subcommittees involving more than 100 volunteers representing various minority populations to build a more diverse and inclusive environment on campus.

“I’m proud of what we’re building here at UAMS, and I’m proud to be a part of it, because, as the chancellor said, service is at the very core of what we do here. I think Dr. King would be pleased by that, because he recognized that our individual greatness lies in our capacity to serve.”

The featured speaker at the event was Crystal C. Mercer, who shared “service gems” of knowledge from her lifelong work in public service and the legacy of her father, civil rights attorney Christopher C. Mercer, particularly during the Central High Crisis of 1957, which she learned about as a student at the school and volunteer at the historic site.

“Service is grotesque work. It is not pretty pictures with black, brown or queer people or children in a village. It is research. It is interviews. It is building relationships. It is really getting to know people to find out exactly what they need,” she said. “It’s not getting a cool t-shirt, even though I live for t-shirts. It’s about building something meaningful.

“It’s building authentic relationships. Sometimes people think they can send me out into the community and fish all the black people in. That’s not how it works. You can’t use me to vet you in a community of color when you have no intention of building a relationship with them and you just want a photo opportunity. If you’re sincere, I can introduce you. But building those relationships on your own by honoring the black, the brown and the queer – people with unique abilities – to focus on what it is they need, that’s service. It’s being invited to engage with others and not forcing yourself into a place because you think you can do some good that hasn’t already been done.”

DDEI's Rosemary Nabaweesi, Dr.P.H. (at left), serves a visitor food during the lunch following the program of speakers.

DDEI’s Rosemary Nabaweesi, Dr.P.H. (at left), serves a visitor food during the lunch following the program of speakers.Bryan Clifton

Following Mercer’s remarks, Odette Woods, senior director of diversity affairs, announced a new initiative called UAMS Serves, inviting all members of campus to form groups and register online to perform volunteer community service during the year.

“We invite individuals, teams, divisions and departments to participate in the challenge by performing community service from today through June 30. You may register to volunteer through the VolunteerAR website,” explained Woods. “We will recognize individuals, teams, departments and units with the highest number of volunteer community service hours during our UAMS Diversity and Inclusion Month celebration.”

After the program, lunch was served and attendees were encouraged to browse a volunteer fair, at which more than 25 local nonprofit and charity groups had tables set up featuring volunteer opportunities within their organization.

“We know the people who work here have hearts that are ready to give and to serve, so we wanted to provide convenient opportunities for them to apply that will and those desires right away,” said Woods. “We’re grateful to all the organizations who made time to come share their opportunities with us and hope that together we can help them do tremendous things in our community as UAMS Serves.”