Student Stories

After expanding from annual one-day event, MLK Jr. Week of Service brings campus and community together virtually

Students, faculty, and staff from more than 13 campus units are participating in service projects including translation for local immigrant populations, resume reviews, and more

Throughout the week of January 17, first through fourth graders at a handful of South Side schools are learning about other cultures and the history of activism abroad from 10 University of Chicago international students. Staff in the University’s Office of Career Advancement are reviewing local residents’ resumes. Notable Chicagoans are sharing their stories in a series of conversations with members of the University community. And nearly 30 UChicago undergraduate and graduate students are translating materials for local immigrant-serving nonprofits. These are just a few of the activities bridging campus and community for the University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week of Service.

For years the University, like institutions across the country, has honored King with an annual Day of Service. In light of heightened community need in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, however, University organizers expanded the 2021 event to a full week of activities. This year’s Week of Service, presented by UChicago’s University Community Service Center (UCSC) within the Office of Civic Engagement in partnership with UChicago Laboratory Schools and UChicago Charter School, is giving even more local residents, South Side organizations, and campus community members an opportunity to take part.

“Ultimately, it is a testament to the work of Dr. King and other activists who suggest that our destinies are intertwined, and made stronger, when we build with those around us,” Director of Student Civic Education and the University Community Service Center Kafi Moragne-Patterson said. “The pandemic has challenged us to be innovative with the ways we generate authentic community-building across campus and the broader city of Chicago. It’s vital to work with campus and community partners to create a robust set of offerings that emphasizes the talent and skillsets embodied by the UChicago community and the many people in the neighborhoods making up our great city. I am proud of our UCSC team, and our many campus and community partners who committed to this creative effort to reach more students and community members than ever before.”

At South Shore International College Preparatory High School in South Shore, Principal Michelle Flatt and her leadership team have been encouraging more than 50 sophomores and 50 seniors to participate in the Week of Service by having their resumes reviewed by staff in the University’s Office of Career Advancement. The high school got involved with the project after partnering with the Office of Civic Engagement for another community engagement event, Engage Chicago, during Orientation Week in October.

“This is an amazing support because from a practical standpoint, it is helping our students with a skill that they will need for their future,” Flatt says. “It is also helpful because now more than ever, our students need to know that they are surrounded by a community of caring adults and mentors who collectively feel accountable for their success.”

In the Office of International Affairs, International Student Adviser Sarah Tolman has been helping to organize two Week of Service offerings: matching international students to local elementary schools for virtual presentations about their native countries and working with four local community-based organizations to facilitate translation services. Tolman says she’s particularly excited about the translation work some international student volunteers are taking on with the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC). Throughout the week, student volunteers are translating resource materials meant to educate Chinese-American parents in Chicago about combatting anti-Blackness in their community as part of CBCAC’s Solidarity Project. The goal is to get the parents to understand racism in America through workshops and other education and begin to adjust their actions to address it.

“Our office has been trying to figure out ways that our students and our office can get more involved in community engagement and anti-racism and social justice work and finding a transnational lens for that, so this felt like a perfect way to tie all that together in honor of MLK and in a week when these themes are being discussed in many different spaces,” Tolman said.

Other activities and events for the week of service will include but are not limited to:

  • Tech support sessions for select local nonprofits with students from the University’s Institute of Politics
  • At least 150 volunteers taking part in 11 large-scale virtual volunteering efforts such as book drives and food donation with local nonprofit organizations
  • My Very Own Library virtual Read Alouds for children and families
  • Virtual Letter Writing to Incarcerated People Workshop for students with the Institute of Politics, Bridge Writing Workshop, and Pozen Human Rights Lab
  • Conversations between UChicago students and senior citizens who are members of Hyde Park Village recorded and released daily
  • The launch of an ongoing City Chats series in which members of the University community and neighboring communities are invited to join virtual conversations with notable Chicagoans about their lives, careers, and Chicago journeys, starting with Jhmira Alexander of storytelling organization Public Narrative 
  • Live Mindfulness Meditation Sessions for UChicago students, faculty, and staff

To see the most updated list of MLK Week offerings or find out how you can still participate, visit

The “MLK Celebration: A Network of Mutuality” event is part of a broader campus-wide celebration honoring the life and legacy of King and reflecting on our collective responsibility to work towards a more equitable society. The 31st annual celebration launched on Tuesday, Jan. 12 with a virtual keynote address from Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, and best-selling author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and The Warmth of Other Suns.