They came with a painting, by the Native American artist Bunky Echo-Hawk.
A stock of lucky bamboo, a money tree and a purple broom. A libation ceremony complete with a snake plant, native to Western Africa.
Finally, a presentation of bread and salt, and a poem from Maria Izquierdo, a representative from the K-State chapter of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization.
“We present these as a symbol of ourselves and our culture and what we may bring to this place,” Izquierdo said. “Here we will accumulate stories, memories, feelings and most importantly, dreams. Many student’s dreams lines these halls, and with every fixture and piece of artwork, we see the reflection of our roots.”
The student dedication of the Morris Family Multicultural Center on Wednesday evening wasn’t a ribbon-cutting; that took place at the official opening back in November.
But with COVID-19 delaying when students could actually experience the new multicultural center during a full semester on campus, Wednesday was an important milestone.
It’s a building that will forever be linked to a K-State football player of Cherokee Nation descent, who grew up poor in Virgil, Kansas, a town with a population of 63.
“I was on welfare, came from a broken home and lost my parents at a really young age. I was orphaned off to aunts and uncles, but my story wasn’t unique among some of the other student-athletes at K-State,” Jim Bob Morris said. “Somebody helped me find a bridge across some pretty troubles waters.”
The Morris Family Multicultural Center was made possible through a gift from Morris, a former safety who led K-State to the first bowl appearance in school history in 1982.
That season was a memorable one, as Big Eight Coach of the Year Jim Dickey and the Wildcats pulled off wins over Iowa State, Colorado and a victory over Kansas in the first night game in the history of KSU Stadium.
“Coach Dickey and the football staff, they were always very supportive of me. Coach [Jack] Hartman was another guy who I liked a lot and was a very good guy to me,” Morris said. “I had a really good group with me at Kansas State.”
History continued for K-State in the Independence Bowl, as even in a loss to Wisconsin, the Wildcats made their first trip to the postseason.
On his way to All-Big 8 honors on the field, Morris was also building the relationships on campus that would set him up for a prolific career in business.
“I don’t know if teachers, coaches or administrators give themselves enough credit for what they can do to motivate,” Morris said. “The person that motivated me the most at K-State was former Dean of Student Affairs Pat Bosco.”
With a laugh, Morris said that even as a proponent of higher education, he could have applied himself more during his time in Manhattan. That didn’t seem to matter to Bosco.
“He believed in me despite my flaws and told recruiters that they should hire me,” Morris said. “That vote of confidence was very inspiring.”
Between all of his marketing classes, connections at the College of Business Administration and a foster family in Manhattan, Morris discovered the foundation he needed for a long and successful career when he was done with football.
Even though football wasn’t quite done with him.
Morris had begun his career in commercial real estate development when the NFL players strike in 1987 led to an opportunity with the Green Bay Packers. Morris earned a spot with Green Bay for the rest of the season, leading the Packers in interceptions in 1987.
An injury at the end of the season, the latest in a string of them that Morris endured throughout his football career, ended his time in the NFL.
Morris is now Owner and President of Morris Packaging, one of many technology and consumer product companies he leads from his home in Bloomington, Illinois. But it wasn’t football or business that brought Morris back to Manhattan on a snowy day in November.
The ribbon-cutting of the Morris Family Multicultural Center was something more personal.
“I’ve kept my word about building bridges and helping others attain their hopes and dreams,” Morris said. “I’m big about inclusion and creating diverse companies…This center is going to help Kansas State in a multitude of ways, and not only our current students. I think it brings a really interesting new dynamic to the university.”
Helping guide the Center from vision to building has been Trumanue Lindsey, Director of Diversity and Multicultural Student Life at Kansas State.
It’s a journey that Lindsey said dates back decades. University archives have stories of students advocating for a multicultural center as far back as the 1950’s.
“There are some challenging things happening throughout our country and we’re not exempt from that as an institution,” Lindsey said. “For our students of color, it’s important to have a space where they feel included.”
Lindsey said that members of the Black Student Union have been at the vanguard of that campaign. The center will empower different multicultural organizations to host events and programming throughout the semester. That was part of the thinking behind the cultural student dedication on Wednesday evening.
“It’s about highlighting our students and highlighting some of the practices that folks may not be aware of,” Lindsey said. “There’s endless possibilities, even in a pandemic, and our students are finding ways to get creative.”
Other events this week include an Asian-American celebration of the Lunar New Year and a Black History art exhibition, highlighting different cultural events and practices among Black students at K-State.
An annual Black History Month lecture will feature Ilyasah Shabazz, a community organizer, social activist and the daughter of Malcolm X.
“I’m super proud of the vision and commitment by everybody on the project action and project planning team, all the students involved, President Myers and [Associate VP for Student Life of Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs] Adrian Rodriguez,” Morris said. “K-State was voted one of the friendliest universities in America and I think that’s something that ties back to this center.”
It was a theme that ran through every moment of Wednesday’s cultural student dedication.
Each painting, plant and libation told the same story.
“Many of these items that were presented will take up permanent residence within the building,” Lindsey. “Our students wanted this building to be a home away from home. These are all things that traditionally, individuals would do when they move into a new home. This is your home.”
— to www.kstatesports.com