For some College of Charleston students, the Martin Luther King Day weekend provides a short break before the semester kicks into full swing or a chance to do service in the community. But for 19 others, it’s  a unique opportunity to learn more about the civil rights leader’s legacy in his hometown.

Students participating in the Alternative Break MLK Weekend trip headed to Atlanta on Jan. 13, 2017, to volunteer and learn more about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

It’s the fourth year that the College’s Center for Civic Engagement has put on the trip, which marketing student Shay Gregory called “one of the better experiences” of his college career.

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The 19 CofC students participating in this year’s program attended two seminars with African American Studies Assistant Professor Mari Crabtree ahead of the trip.

Student Shay Gregory

In a December 2016 roundtable, they discussed King’s legacy of racial and economic justice. And this week, students workshopped on social justice and diversity, according to Chris Ciarcia, associate director for the College’s Center for Civic Engagement.

“The goal of Alternative MLK Weekend is for students to have a better understanding of Dr. King’s philosophy of the Beloved Community,” said Ciarcia. “In addition, the center hopes that students will have a better understanding of the American civil rights movement and how it has influenced modern human rights movements in the United States such as Black Lives Matter.”

This year, students will volunteer at New American Pathways, an organization devoted to refugee resettlement. Ciarcia said they’ll also go to the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District, the Center for Civil and Human Rights and Ebenezer Church – where King delivered sermons.

Ciarcia said even students’ meals will be for the greater good. They’ll eat at Cafe 458, an award-winning restaurant that donates all proceeds to the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, a non-profit dedicated to empowering the city’s homeless.

Gregory went on last year’s trip after getting his application in minutes ahead of the deadline. He said he vividly remembers visiting Ebenezer Church.

“It was most certainly my favorite part of the trip,” he said.

Gregory said that the weekend also gave him greater understanding of King and other civil rights leaders.

“This trip offers a chance for CofC students to explore different locations and populations annually while grounding the break in service, remembering Dr. King’s focus all along the way,” he said.

The College’s Center for Civic Engagement also organizes alternative Fall and Spring break trips. This year, the center is putting on four trips.

One group will head to Las Marias, Puerto Rico, to work with Plenitud Initiatives, a non-profit educational farm and learning center that focuses on sustainable agriculture practices.

Another group will head to Miami for a trip addressing human trafficking. A third will go to Washburn, Tennessee, to work with the Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center. A fourth group will stay closer to home, traveling to Charlotte to work with Habitat for Humanity.

Students interested in going on one of these four trips should submit applications by 5 p.m. on Jan. 18, 2017.

Visit the Center for Civic Engagement website to learn more about the College’s Alternative Break programs.