Shaffer challenges crowd at MSU’s MLK Jr. Day Unity Breakfast

Contact: Allison Matthews

A man applauds as another rings a cowbell with the MSU seal in the background.
MSU President Mark E. Keenum applauds as Donald M. Shaffer, MSU director of African American Studies and associate professor of English, rings a special cowbell after giving the keynote address at the university’s 26th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast and Day of Service program. (Photo by Leilani Salter)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State hosted a capacity crowd gathered to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday [Jan. 20], with keynote speaker Donald M. Shaffer applauding those also committing the day to public service.

The university’s 26th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast and Day of Service began with a breakfast program before members of the university and community dispatched to 20 partner sites for volunteerism.

“I’m impressed each year by this event because it implores us not only to remember the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., but also challenges us to carry forth that legacy in a day of service,” Shaffer said.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum gave welcoming remarks and told the biblical story of “The Good Samaritan,” which he described as a powerful illustration for all people that also reminds him of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“There is no room for discrimination of any kind in this world,” Keenum said. “The story of ‘The Good Samaritan’ reminds me of everything that Dr. King worked and gave his life for. He fought bravely for civil rights and to end discrimination. He fought heroically for dignity and equality, and he fought to open our eyes so that we could recognize all of our neighbors.”

Shaffer, MSU director of African American Studies and an associate professor of English, recounted his childhood as the son of a librarian who grew up in a home filled with books. As he learned about history, literature and the world beyond his hometown of Jackson, Shaffer said the allure of distant cities and the unpleasantness of Magnolia State history made him question his mother about why she never left Mississippi.

“My desire to leave was founded at a very early age—I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, to some ideal place that I had formulated in my mind, where the weight of history didn’t bear down on me like a heavy burden.

“My mother was always there to give me perspective, give me a different picture,” he said, explaining that she loved her home state, where she also had a long family history.

“She loved Mississippi—for its people, its culture, its beauty. She even loved it in spite of its history—not the history she read about in books, but the history she lived firsthand,” Shaffer said.

“It’s a perspective that acknowledges that this is our home, defined by its long history of struggle, as well as its hard-fought record of social change,” Shaffer said. He said this perspective was the same that led him away for graduate school and also to return after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

Shaffer said his mother impacted how he viewed his home, and this is “born out of a willingness to bring about positive change in our state, but just as well, it’s born out of people loving each other despite their differences.”

Keenum said the Mississippi State family is enriched by Shaffer’s scholarship and his teaching contributions. “Dr. Shaffer is a leader who makes a difference on our campus every single day,” Keenum said.

An MSU faculty member since 2008, Shaffer also serves as mentor for Presidential Scholars in MSU’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College. As scholar in residence for the Mississippi Arts Commission, and consulting scholar for the Mississippi Writers Trail Project, he has composed markers commemorating the lives and works of authors such as Margaret Walker, Shelby Foote, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Stark Young and Fannie Lou Hamer.

MSU’s  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast and Day of Service event is sponsored by the Office of the President, Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Holmes Cultural Diversity Center, and the university’s Division of Student Affairs. In addition to formal remarks, the program also included musical selections by the campus’s Black Voices Gospel Choir, as well as special presentations by the Kappa Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill; President of the Oktibbeha County Chapter of NAACP Yulanda Haddix; with Larnzy L. Carpenter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Longview, serving as the program’s moderator.

MSU’s Maroon Volunteer Center, in coordination with Volunteer Starkville, organized the MLK Jr. Day of Service activities which included work at Boys and Girls Club-Columbus, Boys and Girls Club-Starkville, Camp Seminole, Christian World Missions, Council of Community Organizations, Habitat ReStore, Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum, J.L. King Senior Memorial Park, McKee Park, Moncrief Park, Ms. Smith’s Educational Services, MSU Community Garden, Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, Odd Fellows/Brush Arbor Cemetery, Oktoc Fire Department, Operation Ukraine-Columbus, Palmer Home Thrift Store-Columbus, Palmer Home Thrift Store-Starkville, Sally Kate Winters-West Point, and United Way.

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