Stan Maclin with then-undergraduate students Phillip Watson and Amanda May, speaking about the civil rights movement in Tyrone Sprague's barbershop in downtown Harrisonburg on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2016. Maclin, who died Jan. 12, 2021, helped to connect many students, faculty and staff to local community social justice work. (Photo by Celeste Thomas)

Community leader Stan Maclin connected EMU to local activism

Stan Maclin GC ’01 (ministry studies), the community organizer, pastor, educator, and tireless advocate for racial and social justice in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and beyond, died Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021, at age 67. 

Today [Sunday] and Monday, Eastern Mennonite University honors Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an annual event that Maclin played an influential role in helping to create and sustain.

“He was one of the giants whose shoulders we stand upon in this struggle for Justice and Truth,” said planning committee chair Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services and senior advisor to the president on diversity and inclusion, who worked with Maclin on several events over the years.To loosely quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he was definitely ‘a drum major for change.’ He will be sorely missed especially during this time of the year. He would be with us on Monday if he were still among us.”

Maclin’s many achievements include founding the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center, creating the People’s Equality Commission of the Shenandoah Valley, and leading the charge to rename Cantrell Avenue as Martin Luther King Jr. Way. He was dedicated to preserving the history of Harrisonburg’s historically Black neighborhood. This summer, he organized a series of peace rallies to speak out against racism and police brutality, and to facilitate dialogue between local residents and authorities in the criminal justice system. Just last month, he spoke of his hopes of creating a civilian law enforcement review board in Harrisonburg.

Stan Maclin (right) with Celeste Thomas and others attending a “Barbershop Talk” in downtown Harrisonburg. Tyrone Sprague, barbershop owner and host, took the photo. Thomas is chair of the annual EMU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

Maclin was a well-known and respected community leader: His passing has been covered in the Daily News-Record and WHSV.

He was also a great friend to EMU. To local media, he mentioned moving to the area to attend the seminary. Professor Lonnie Yoder recalls that shortly after his arrival, Maclin requested a tour to help him get to know the community. The two men spent some hours driving around Harrisonburg, with Yoder “telling stories, pointing out key institutions and landmarks, sharing my take on the historical, cultural, and religious dynamics of this community.”

Yoder calls the experience a “holy moment” for him, and it’s a story that is particularly poignant because it captures a moment of deep witness of who Stan Maclin was, how he valued learning and knowing a community, seeing with clear eyes and an open heart, and moved toward change with a deep devotion to involving and sharing with others in that radical work.

In the years since, Maclin helped to provide the same experience to EMU students. He helped to start the first Martin Luther King Day Celebration on campus in 2013, and continued to open the minds of students and other EMU community members in attendance at  MLK Day talks and tours each year

Stan Maclin (right) with David Brubaker, then professor and now dean of EMU’s School of Social Sciences and Professions at Eastern Mennonite University, at a 2016 Faith in Action meeting in Harrisonburg. (EMU file photo)

In 2018 and 2019, Maclin worked with second-year graduate students at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding on their “Community Grounding Day” orientation for new students. He hosted a day-long tour that explored the social, historical, economic, cultural and environmental realities of the city from a social justice perspective, said Amy Knorr, practice director at CJP.

He invited many graduate students to connect to and join organizations, movements and gatherings for social justice. In his leadership positions with Faith in Action and Virginia Organizing, particularly, Knorr says Maclin encouraged and opened doors to CJP student engagement and collaboration.

“A hero for justice has fallen,” said Professor Carl Stauffer, who first met Maclin in 1991 when they pastored and worked together in Richmond. Stauffer later worked with Maclin in the Martin Luther King Jr. Way Coalition and spoke at a number of local peace rallies Maclin organized. 

“As I often say, it was Stan who raised me up in the ministry of the Church, and the work of racial justice, reconciliation, and community development,” Stauffer said. “He was a brother, mentor and friend. He will be sorely missed by so many people around the world, in the Church nationally, and right here in the City of Harrisonburg. Stan was always focused on the local — he was a man of action, committed to social justice and community organizing wherever he found himself. Stan was determined to work for, and live into a better world. He made Harrisonburg a better place. He has left us an important legacy of justice, reconciliation, and bridge-building across all divisions in our society. May we carry on his mantle with grace and integrity.”

Below, we’ve collected a few memories from other EMU faculty and staff who worked with Maclin over the years. 

I first got to know Stan when he invited me to contribute to the advocacy for the street renaming effort and I served gladly under his leadership. He invited my contributions toward this effort out of his deep respect for what he experienced at EMU. I, in turn, invited his involvement with planning and facilitating MLK Day of Service and Learning at EMU. It was a good partnership for many years. 

– Brian Martin Burkholder, campus pastor

Stan was not only a community activist but I would count him as a friend. He was a member of the MLK Jr. Committee and unselfishly gave of his time and talent to the students, myself and EMU. He conducted tours of the Harriet Tubman museum and co-lead the Barbershop Talks during the MLK Jr. Celebration. He was dedicated to and passionate about making sure that the next generation was aware of the activists from slavery through civil rights and present day that paved the way for us to have the liberties that we have in this country. He was one of the giants whose shoulders we stand upon in this struggle for Justice and Truth. To loosely quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “He was definitely a drum major for change.” He will be sorely missed especially during this time of the year. He would be with us on Monday if he were still among us.

– Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services and senior adviser to the president for diversity and inclusion

When he moved to Harrisonburg many years ago, he expressed a need to be introduced to the Harrisonburg community. I remember taking an entire afternoon to literally drive Stan around the city of Harrisonburg telling stories, pointing out key institutions and landmarks, sharing my take on the historical, cultural, and religious dynamics of this community, etc. It was a holy moment for me and I hope it was as well for Stan.

– Professor Lonnie Yoder, Eastern Mennonite Seminary

Stan was committed to and especially active in being a bridge builder between the so-called campus and community, more broadly. He not only engaged students, but has also invited faculty and staff in various community events and initiatives as well – including the King street renaming taskforce, annual celebrations of Dr. King, and other community events. I benefited from his outreach, hospitality and bridge building within six months of my move to Harrisonburg, and know that there are others of us for whom he served as a mentor in many respects, and who have connections that predate their time in/at Harrrisonburg, EMU and CJP.

– Professor Johonna Turner, co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice

More MLK Day media coverage

WHSV’s Bob Corso interviews Celeste Thomas.

WSVA’s Mike Schikman interviews Celeste Thomas.