Dr. King’s vision: The next generation

CSU students Maggie Luehrs, left, and Bailey Cross were among the community members passionate about social justice issues who were chosen as March Leaders for the 2016 Martin Luther King Day March and Celebration.

In the nearly five decades since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, his message has continued to resonate with those concerned with equality and social justice. For two undergraduates at Colorado State University, his legacy has been part of their lives for as long as they can remember.

Bailey Cross, a second-year student studying political science, legal studies and women’s studies, and Maggie Luehrs, who will be graduating in May with a degree in social work with a minor in Spanish, are among the half-dozen community members chosen as march leaders for this year’s Fort Collins Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and Celebration. Both young women are passionate, lifelong advocates for marginalized populations and people in need.

Luehrs says she has always wanted to be a social worker. She remembers going to work with her father at the St. Francis Center, a shelter for the homeless in the Curtis Park neighborhood in downtown Denver, when she was in elementary school. There she learned lessons that she has delved into deeper during her four years at CSU, strengthening her desire to continue to work on behalf of those experiencing homelessness.

Working to end homelessness

2016 MLK Day March Leaders
  1. Bailey Cross, second-year CSU student
  2. Dominique M. David-Chavez, CSU Ph.D. student and MLK Scholarship winner
  3. Maggie Luehrs, fourth-year CSU student
  4. Margit Hentschel, Service-Learning Program Director, CSU’s Institute for Learning and Teaching TILT.
  5. Tiffani Kelly, Assistant Director at CSU’s Native American Cultural Center
  6. Mim Neal, head of MLK committee in Loveland
  7. David Williams – Senior Pastor, Abyssinian Christian Church, keynote speaker

Luehrs participated in the Step Up: A Social Justice Retreat through SLiCE during her first year, helped plan diversity programs for residence halls and served as a mentor with Key Communities on campus, and has volunteered throughout Fort Collins, including for Catholic Charities and the Sister Alice Murphy Center and Homeless Connect. She now works part-time at the front desk of Red Tail Ponds, the city’s 60-unit supportive living apartment building near College Avenue and Harmony Road.

“There’s nowhere like it in Fort Collins,” she says. “Sixty people now have a place to live and access to the services they need like health care, career training, counseling and help accessing benefits – about one-third of the residents are veterans – as well as learning things like cooking and computer skills.”

After graduation, Luehrs has lined up an internship with a children’s home in Nicaragua before applying to graduate school. Ultimately, she would like a career where she could work for social justice for all.

“It seems that as a nation and a world, we have become so polarized,” Luehrs says. “We have passionate people who understand that racism and oppression are a real thing, and others who want to deny that it exists and blame others. That makes it an interesting time in our nation, a time to act in a timely and intelligent manner to educate the general population about how oppression works and the compassionate way we can treat all people. If we can’t work together we will all perish together.”

Fighting human trafficking

Cross also came to her passion for social justice through her family’s dedication to helping others. Her mother, a special education teacher, took her along when she volunteered at the Denver Rescue Mission and their church group. When Cross was in middle school in Broomfield, she learned about Invisible Children, the group that works to rescue child soldiers in Africa. That sparked her interest in the issues of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

“It’s something lots of people don’t know about and don’t talk about, even though human trafficking is a big problem in Colorado and even in Fort Collins, because of the I-70/I-25 corridor,” Cross says. “I want to help educate people about what’s going on right now.”

She also volunteers with the Victim Assistance Team on campus, and says sexual assault is another topic that few people want to talk about.

“One assault survivor told me she wished she had cancer instead, because then she would get support and understanding,” Cross said. “People don’t know how to react, and we need to change that dialog.”

To open up dialog on a number of taboo subjects, including racism, exploitation, assault and gender identities, Cross is helping put on The ______ Monologues. Modeled after The Vagina Monologues, The _____Monologues presents 25 different personal stories told by 15 different CSU students. It has been in development since September.

“Most of the monologues have been written specifically for this performance, and this is the first time on stage for most of the performers. It’s very CSU-centric,” Cross explains. “They had a story to share, to let other people know they can be empowered and they are not alone. If we can talk about it, we can solve it.”

The production is part of Cross’s work for her Puksta Scholarship, a program for Colorado undergraduates with a strong commitment to service and civic responsibility. Puksta Scholars participate in a rigorous four-year program designed to provide them the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary to become catalysts for lasting positive change in the community.

The _____ Monologues is presented in partnership with the CSU Women and Gender Advocacy Center and benefits Crossroads Safehouse and iEmpathesize, which works to end child exploitation. Tickets for both March 25 and 26 performances in the Lory Student Theater will be available through the LSC Box Office.

Cross eventually wants to go to law school so she can work on human trafficking policy. She admits changing the nation’s laws is a big challenge, but it’s something that needs to be done.

“Lots of people get overwhelmed by things going on in their personal lives, with school, or what’s going on in the world,” Cross says. “But if you can spend just one day a month doing something to help someone else, it can make a huge difference. Nothing is too small.”