Reflecting back on MLK Day

4 Feb

The highlights of the month of January for me were the activities surrounding the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at both my placement site, Project Plase as well as for our Maryland Public Allies Service Day.

I’m accustomed to participating in community service projects on MLK day. Having gone to Temple University in Philadelphia where I was very active in the the community outreach endeavors of the school, I always participated in the service activities sponsored by the school in his honor. But on Friday January 18th I attended my first memorial service in celebration of the day. Project Plase’s memorial service was held at nearby St. Mark’s church. The ceremony commenced appropriately with the reading of the sacred “I Have a Dream” speech. It was complete with musical selections of inspirational hymns and remarks from various Plase staff members about their connections to King Jr’s legacy. The moving celebration concluded with all those attending standing hand-in-hand and singing the enduring civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome”.

painting!

painting!

storage room after

storage room after

storage room before

storage room before

library after

library after

WP_000791 mlk 049

 

The most exciting part of the event for me however was seeing my supervisor Muriel Stone Nolen, the manager of the Men’s facility at Plase take to the podium. Listening to her story of growing up in pre-civil rights Kentucky and not only joining the movement to fight for her own rights but also advocating for the rights of others bore in me an even deeper admiration for her than I had developed just from working with her. What I took most from her words regarding Minister King’s legacy is that instead of living an idle and aimless life, we should all strive to live a life of demonstrated purpose. Amen.

A few days after Project Plase’s MLK Day festivities I joined the rest of my Public Ally class on Monday January 21 for our day of service. In line with the Americorps philosophy that MLK Day should be a “day on” to serve one’s community as opposed to a day off from work, we all deployed to James McHenry Elementary-Middle School in Baltimore. There we met and partnered with Oasis (Organization of African American Students in Social Work), as well as parents, staff and even a few students from Mchenry to work on the school’s neglected library.

Armed with trash bags, brooms, gloves, paint, sheer will and determination and every other necessary tool you can imagine needed to transform a dingy unused space into a vibrant and inviting learning environment, we achieved just that. It was difficult to really gauge the difference we made within the space initially. But once I saw the photos of the before and after results I realized that our teamwork efforts truly paid off. It felt great to get back to my roots of what community service traditionally meant for me: hands on labor. I dabbled in a little bit of everything that day. I’m no artist by any means, but they actually trusted me to paint a door. I also removed piles and piles of trash that had accumulated in a storage room over the years. Working side by side, we truly revitalized the library for Mchenry’s deserving students. I only wish that we could have seen the looks on the eager children’s faces returning to school to discover their newly cleaned and organized library space. Nonetheless the opportunity to take part in the event undoubtedly made me feel like I was living with a purpose.

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