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A day of celebration

Dr. Donald Cole introduced two young Oxford students during his keynote address at the Lafayette-Oxford-University Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Award ceremony Monday at the Oxford Activity Center.

Cole, who is the assistant provost, assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs and a math professor at the University of Mississippi, asked Chris Certion, 14, an eighth-grader at Oxford Middle School, and Samaria Cancer, 11, a fifth-grader at Oxford Intermediate School to stand.

Cole said Certion would like to become a professional musician, and Cancer wants to become an attorney.

“I’m a mathematician by training,” Cole said, as he addressed an audience, “and do you know what the statistics say about Chris and Samaria? You know what it predicts about them?

“It predicts, in the words of my daddy, ‘Ain’t no way. Ain’t no way for neither one of them,’ my daddy would say, ‘to fulfill those dreams without intervention.’

“Chris, according to the statistics, is likely to not even finish high school and be part of the criminal justice system. Samaria is likely to drop out and become a single mother, doomed by poverty, all the days of her life.”

But Cole said statistics are unable to predict the outcome of a single individual. Rather, they can only predict the outcome of a sample population.

“So when we sample Chris and Samaria’s counterparts in marginalized areas of the Delta, of the inner cities of America, in the Appalachian areas, in the Native American reservations — these and other statistics I called out are likely to ring true, but they will not ring true for these individuals.

“That’s why I’m so glad to be a part of the LOU community, because we are a community that will intervene. We are a community that is positioned and willing to serve these young people to the completion of their dreams.”

Cole said King, who died at age 39, would be 87 if he were alive today.

“Dr. King accomplished a lifetime of achievements,” he said. “Dr. King created the blueprint and lay the foundation of a magnificent structure. . .He dreamed an amazing dream that he wanted all of humanity to live out. So visionary was this dream, that it transitioned boundaries around us and among us.

“He asked America to present itself as a model of service — to teach the world how to seek an end to racism, war and violence — how to fight the evil that’s in people by not fighting the people themselves. It all began with a single individual making a single commitment to serve his fellow man.

“I’m so glad that Dr. King’s dream wasn’t a black dream. It wasn’t a white dream. It wasn’t a poor or rich man’s dream. Not a protestant or Catholic’s dream. It was a humanitarian dream. Each individual in this room, is called upon to be what I term a difference-maker in this community, and within his or her sphere of influence.”

Cole said it isn’t hard to find problems in the community that can be addressed.

“Areas of service range from the classroom to the boardroom,” he said.

MLK Day of Service Outstanding Volunteer Award recipients included Faith Meyer, Dr. Judith A. Thompson, Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander and Jacqueline Certion.

UM Chancellor Dr Jeffrey Vitter also addressed the crowd Monday. He said the university is committed to being an engaged part of the community.

“We are one LOU,” he said. “Today is a day to meet someone new and to reconnect with those in the community you haven’t seen in a while. It’s also a day to celebrate the life, work and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to celebrate and remember his vision of the world, his dream.”

Vitter said MLK Day is an effort to elevate people and create positive change.

“To everyone in our community who works in service to others, thank you,” Vitter said. “Let us be ever-minded of our own responsibility to help others, and let us work every single day to live up to Dr. King’s ideal.”

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is www.lareecarucker.com.

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