Southern Miss Celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King


Sean Smith

Keynote speaker Kelsey Rushing Jr. delivers remarks during the 17th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ecumenical and Scholarship Breakfast on Monday morning at the Thad Chochran Center’s ballroom.

Members of the Southern Miss community came together Monday for prayer, remembrance and service to celebrate the 94th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

The morning began with the 17th annual Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Ecumenical and Scholarship Breakfast at the USM Thad Cochran Center. This event, sponsored by Mu Xi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., was the first in-person breakfast since the pandemic began in 2020.  

 After a breakfast buffet, multiple prayers and remarks, members of the Hattiesburg community were honored for acts of public service. In addition, local high school students were given scholarships for outstanding achievement. 

 This year’s keynote speaker was Kelsey Rushing, Jr. He is a lifetime member of Alpha Phi Alpha, an alumnus of USM and a Capital Defender for the Mississippi Office of State Public Defender.  

 His speech centered on the importance of serving others for the benefit of all. In an interview, he advised young people looking to get involved. “Just don’t miss your opportunity,” said Rushing. “There are all kinds of ways to serve…Sometimes service can just be helping one another.” 

The breakfast was attended by hundreds of people from the Hattiesburg and Southern Miss communities including USM President Joeseph Paul, Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker, and special guests Gwendolyn Armstrong and Raylawni Branch, the first African American students at Southern Miss who enrolled in 1965. 

 “Greatness comes as a result of work, hard work. Many of those that do our work-work for good are just common local people,” said Dr. Eddie Halloway, an APA member who helped organize the breakfast, praised the honorees. “They may never make the headlines in the New York Times yet, and still where they are, they have made a difference.” 

 That same morning three dozen volunteers organized by the USM Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement descended on Christian Services, a Hattiesburg service organization that helps the homeless, the hungry and the hopeless. Every year for MLK day, the Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement office conducts volunteer projects in memory of King’s legacy.  

 This year, volunteers prepared snack bags and plates of food for those in need. They also helped organize the food pantry and painted encouraging words on the walls of the building.  

“I feel like we all came together as one team and that really just motivated me and empowered me. Together, we can really do a lot as one,” said USM student volunteer Taylor Adair. 

 Dr. King’s birthday has been a federally recognized holiday since 1986. Starting in 1994, it became recognized as a national day of service as well. People are encouraged to participate in community service projects, especially here at Southern Miss.