Children are great reminders that big ideas start small. In the spring of 1968, an article in Whitworth’s alumni magazine, Campanile Call, announced a new scholarship fund named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The fund sought to raise $120,000 to provide scholarship money for recruiting among African American students and students from underprivileged backgrounds. The cover featured a handwritten letter from first- and second-graders Melinda and Peter Cornwell, who had heard about the fund. “Dear Whitworth,” Peter wrote, “our mother and father say Dr. Martin Luther King wanted a friendly country for all children. Here is four dollars for the fund. Thank you for the chance to share.” The children struck up a correspondence with Whitworth Director of Development Rodney Houts, who sent them a copy of the issue with their letter on the cover. Peter wrote back, “We think Dr. King would be happy about our letters to each other. He helped us learn it is good to write a letter to grownups to help each other.”
In a later letter, Melinda and Peter sent photos of their class as a present to those Whitworth students who were studying to be teachers. Melinda wrote, “Our father and mother told us Dr. King must have thought about children when his work was hard.”
In the years following this effort, Whitworth pioneered the Project Opportunity Program, which brought African American students to campus from Harlem and Los Angeles.