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ASU doctoral student: Use your voice to help those who are struggling

Annual MLK celebration honors community members from ASU and around the state who are committed to servant leadership

A man speaks at a lectern

January 24, 2019

A person’s voice is their identity — and that can be expressed more profoundly through actions than words, according to an Arizona State University student who has dedicated his career to helping young people find their voices.

“It is important to find your voice because your voice is like your fingerprint — it identifies who you are and what you’re about,” said Dontá McGilvery, a doctoral student in the theater for youth program in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“You may be unable to speak a single word, but if you stand for what is right, you’ve actually said much more than the person who has said many words but done nothing,” he said.

McGilvery addressed a room full of young people at the 34th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus on Thursday morning. He is the winner of the 2019 Student Servant-Leadership Award.

McGilvery, the founder of the nonprofit Sleeveless Acts Drama Company in Phoenix, told the crowd to use their voices to help those who are struggling. As an undergraduate at Southern Methodist University, he lived on the streets of Dallas for a year to research homelessness.

“As an artist, I use my voice as a way to protest and for creating space for people of color who are heavily misrepresented and underrepresented across the board, but especially in theater,” he said. “I use my artistic voice so that others can use their voice to stage their own stories rather than having others appropriate their culture.”

McGilvery also is the director of drama ministry at the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix.

“My voice and my work is located at the intersection of body and soul, community and university, church and community,” he said.

The breakfast celebration was just one of several events sponsored by the MLK Committee at ASU, according to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs at ASU who served as the emcee of the event. The celebration included the winners of the statewide poster and essay contests for K–12 students, several of whom read their essays.

“ASU’s celebration is built around Dr. King’s example of servant leadership,” she said. “Making the world better through large and small acts of service is what we strive to do at ASU.”

On Wednesday, thousands of young people participated in the “MLK March on West” at ASU’s West campus — a tradition that dates to 1991 — that concluded with a reading of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Throughout January, hundreds of ASU students participated in service projects on and off campus with partners including the Borderlands Produce Rescue food bank, the city of Mesa and the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, Jennings-Roggensack said.

St. Mary’s Food Bank is the winner of the 2019 Community Servant-Leadership Award for its work distributing food to nonprofit partners, fighting hunger in schoolchildren and helping to train people for employment in the food-service industry.

Tom Kertis, president and CEO of St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, said that the organization’s clients are mostly the working poor.

“They have jobs, but they just can’t make ends meet,” he said. “Sometimes they’re federal workers who have gone without paychecks.”

He compared John van Hengel, the man who founded St. Mary’s Food Bank in 1967 and went on to found many other food banks around the world, to Martin Luther King Jr.

“Servant leaders change the world,” he said. “They forget about themselves and only care about everyone else.”

Top photo: ASU doctoral candidate Dontá McGilvery speaks at the 34th annual MLK Jr. Breakfast Celebration to honor the commitment to servant leadership within the university and Valley on Thursday morning. McGilvery and St. Mary’s Food Bank received the 2019 awards along with two dozen K–12 students whose artwork and prose illuminated their inspiration for servant leaders. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now