UM-Flint Partnership Gives Children Fun, Educational Place to Spend MLK Day

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Michael Lawler III teaching mindfulness.
Michael Lawler III teaching mindfulness.

The student became the teacher as 8-year-old Michael Lawler III sat Chancellor Susan E. Borrego down to show her a thing or two about mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a cornerstone piece of the Community Education Initiative being brought into the Flint school system, spearheaded by Crim Fitness Foundation. The Crim and UM-Flint established a partnership last year focusing on health and wellness.

Michael was one of about 100 children who came to the University of Michigan-Flint on Monday when the campus community stepped up to be a fun and educational safe haven for children and to be a child care safety net for parents on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when schools and many social service agencies close in recognition of the holiday, but many parents still work.

Michael was having a fun time on Monday, especially “creating things and building projects,” he said as he checked out the beads and straws and foam pads and fuzzy balls and glue. There was lots and lots of glue.

The breakfast was “awesome,” he said. The crafts were “awesome,” he said. When it comes down to it: “I think today has been awesome,” Michael said.

He said that he had never been to the University of Michigan-Flint before, but by 11 a.m. he proudly proclaimed that he was going to go to college at UM-Flint.

Yeah? Well, let’s introduce you to someone.

Little did Michael know that just 10 feet away Borrego sat, checking out the youngsters aged 7 to 17 in UM-Flint’s new Martin Luther King Day initiative launched in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Flint and Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School in Flint.

So, Michael met “Sue,” shook her hand unabashedly, and learned what the word chancellor meant.

He talked to her about the cool craft he made and then just hung out for a bit, talking about all the cool things planned for the day—which included an Indian Culture experience led by associate dean Sapna Thwaite, sports on the gym floor, robotics, campus tours, crafts, and Michael’s very favorite: mindfulness.

“I love it,” Michael said. “I do it all the time. … It’s easy. Sit down.”

And, in the true spirit of Martin Luther King, Michael reminds us that we all can and all should learn from each other.

Soon, Michael was walking through step by step how the chancellor could practice mindfulness. Sit down. Close your eyes. Put your hands down. Breathe. Imagine.

“You can imagine that you are some place, any place you want to be,” Michael said. “You might even want to send someone else a happy thought.”

It’s easy, he said. You can do it anywhere. Sometimes he even does it when he can’t sleep at night—and sure enough, soon, he is fast asleep.

Then, Borrego’s granddaughter, 6-year-old Raya, jumped up, saying she, too, wanted to learn mindfulness. So, Michael turned to her and started his lesson anew.

Volunteers came from all over campus to make the event happen, said Bob Barnett, dean of the School of Education and Human Services. The volunteer effort was so popular that they eventually had to start turning away some who wanted to help.

The program was a cooperative effort between the School of Education and Human Services, Human Resources, Institutional Advancement, Public Safety, the Recreation Center, Outreach, and Women’s Education Center, Barnett said.

“I absolutely love it,” said Marissa McCann, a student volunteer who filled up egg carton cups with gallon jugs of glue.

And, for the record, while there was lots of stuff to do, it ends up a little down time is just as popular as all the fun and games.

At the end of the day, there was a tie for favorite activity: Basketball and, you guessed it, mindfulness.

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