African-American students find community in Sac State’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center

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Sacramento State students Blessen McCarthy (far left), Erika Holyfield (center), Uriah L. (King) Glass (closest), and Janay Ezekwe (farthest) socialize and work in the MLK Jr. Center in Lassen Hall at Sacramento State on Feb.9. The MLK Jr. Center is a place for black students to come and meet fellow students, make a path path to graduation, and find academic help from student tutors. (Photo by Matthew Nobert)

Robert Todd

The Sankofa bird, which has a long neck and legs like a flamingo, has become a symbol for African-Americans which represents the need to look back at the past in order to move forward toward a better future.

That is the underlying message that the Martin Luther King Jr. Center has been trying to teach Sacramento State students since it opened in November 2015, according to center director Tina Jordan-Brown.

When students enter the center, they are greeted by a portrait of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, which hangs on a powder-blue wall.

In the hallway pictures of segregation in the South and the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s show visitors the past struggles of African-Americans.

Also on the wall are portraits of African-American faculty and staff members, which, according to Jordan-Brown, are meant to help students feel like they aren’t alone on campus.

“My vision for the center is that students know this is a place to go where you can get support,” she said.

A row of portrits of black faculty and staff in the MLK Jr. center. These portits are posted all around the MLK Jr. center. (Photo by Matthew Nobert)

Jordan-Brown said that she also wants to emphasize the importance of student retention and academic success.

“You can have a sense of belonging,” she said. “But you want to belong here and leave with a degree.”

She said the center’s focus is on establishing a “peer-to-peer” learning environment, and students are encouraged to teach each other.

One such student is Janay Ezekwe, a biological sciences major who works in the MLK Center. She will be hosting a series of workshops starting on Feb. 15 called “Love Yourself,” which she said is meant to help students take better care of themselves and to realize their full potential.

Ezekwe said the series is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and each session will focus on one of the five principles of self-care: Psychological Needs on March 1; Safety, Security, Stress on March 15; Relationships on April 5; Self-Esteem on April 19; and Self-Actualization on May 3.  All workshops will be located in Lassen 2200P and will start at 3 p.m.

“I want to teach people to be holistically healthy,” she said.  “Not just taking care of their body, but also their mind and their soul.”

Ezekwe said that she hopes to go to medical school and ultimately improve the quality of healthcare received by minority communities. She said that the MLK Center has helped her prepare for that.

“This center has allowed me to engage the community I intend to serve,” she said.

Erika Holyfield, a psychology major, said that the center provided her the chance to build connections with other students she may not have had otherwise.

“The MLK Center brought community to me since I’ve been on campus,” she said.

Student worker Uriah L. (King) Glass works in the MLK Jr. Center on Feb.9 at Sacramento State. Glass is majoring in both communications and government and plans one day to enter into govermental work so that he can open a center like the MLK Jr. Center. (Photo by Matthew Nobert)

Uriah “King” Glass, a double major in communications and government, said that the MLK Center gives him a platform on which to express his political and social activism.

“It’s a way for me to figure out how I’m going to make what I want to do into actuality,” he said.

Jordan-Brown said she hopes that the center will provide students more internship and career opportunities by working with Sacramento State’s business school and having community members come and speak with them about the job market.

She said that they have had several students intern at places like the Greater Sacramento Urban League.

The MLK Center is celebrating Black History Month with a series of events already underway, including the Black Convocation 2017 event on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in the University Union Ballroom. All students and faculty are welcome to attend. More info about the MLK Center events can be found on the Sac State website.