Ellison speaks at Law School

Riham Feshir

As a part of Martin Luther King Jr. week, the University Law School invited U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., to speak Friday about strengthening the community through public service, at the third-annual Raise the Bar community volunteerism kick-off.

Ellison, who spoke about his recent visit to Guantánamo Bay, said he believes community service can have a great impact on the broader social and political issues facing the United States today.

“It’s not an act of charity,” he said. “It’s an act of social reform.”

The idea behind Raise the Bar, which was founded by law students Sarah Riskin, Rishi Gupta and Yeerik Moy in 2005, is to get law students and the law community to volunteer for the public beyond providing legal services, Riskin said.

Moy said the group pairs its day of service with a speaker to promote some of what King stood for and the freedom this country was founded on.

This year, the group has about 150 volunteers registered for the day of service, which will be Saturday, Moy said. Projects vary from stuffing kindergarten backpacks with school supplies and nutritious meals to free tax help at public libraries.

Ellison’s Guantánamo Bay visit

Ellison said in his speech that today’s conditions in many areas of the United States are similar to the 1960s.

“The challenges to justice in the world we live in are as great, if not greater, than anything happened in 1965,” Ellison said.

The congressman, who returned from Guantánamo Bay on Thursday, described his visit as he spoke about the transparency of U.S. politics, social issues of hunger, homelessness, domestic violence and affordable education. These were his first public remarks about his visit, before an audience of approximately 200 students, faculty and visitors.

He said he didn’t observe cruelty, and the detainees are being treated fairly, with medical treatment, 5,000 calories a day and recreation time.

“I didn’t see blood on the floor,” he said. “Didn’t see howling and screaming.”

But nothing makes it all OK, he said.

“What I did see is a whole lot of people who have no process to change the conditions they’re in,” he said.

Ellison wasn’t allowed to speak to detainees or see what goes on behind closed doors, he said, because it’s against the law.

“You wouldn’t invite me (to Guantánamo) if you knew I was going to see something outrageous,” he said.

Ellison said he hopes King’s values are implemented to improve social conditions nationwide.

Moy said the congressman’s visit helped recruit volunteers on a greater level.

“(Ellison’s conversation) helps establish more permanent foresight about volunteering and how that helps community service and society as a whole.”