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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”.



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.


Opportunity Means…

21 Dec



“Opportunity means being an advocate for our homeless citizens.”

The Patterson Park Pack

29 Nov

One of the major components of this Public Allies experience is that we Allies are divided into teams and assigned a neighborhood to engage. The goal of the Team Service Project as it’s called is for us to learn and apply the principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Asset based community development teaches that the foundation for a strong sustainable community is built upon the local people, associations, institutions, and others assets that already exist in the neighborhoods. My group was assigned the Patterson Park neighborhood, and our goal is to identify and engage with the assets there: the leaders, both apparent and potential, who live in the neighborhoods, the community associations, schools, and many many more. Armed with our mission, we decided to call ourselves the, “Patterson Park Pack” (P3).

On Wednesday October 24 we visited the Patterson Park neighborhood for the first time as a group. Along with our program managers we toured the expansive and beautifully maintained center of the community; the park. We quickly realized why the park is the hub of the neighborhood. It encompassed a skating rink, multiple playgrounds, a football field and acre upon of acre of open green space. As we began to contemplate the asset based method of development it became apparent that the park was the definition of an asset.

We didn’t stop at touring the park however.  We were assigned a community liaison to help us gain entry and inclusion into the community more smoothly. He was able to schedule a meeting with two prominent figures in Patterson Park: Dr. Elizabeth Obara and Ed Rutkowski,The Community Schools Coordinator and Executive Director of the Patterson Park Public Charter School respectively. Both have lengthy and strong ties to the community and were able to provide us with a wealth of information for a starting point for our TSP brainstorming. Thanks to their insight we were introduced to some great organizations and community initiatives such as Banner Neighborhoods and Friends of Patterson Park  that will serve as great assets for us to potentially work with within Patterson Park.

As promising as our first TSP endeavor was we know that we’ve only just begun this project, so stay tuned for updates on our progress all the way through our final presentation in June 2013!

For more information on either Dr. Obara or Ed Rutkowsi visit

To learn more about Public Allies and Asset Based Community Development(ABDC) read “Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up” by Public Allies CEO Paul Schmitz.