Volunteers Honor the Legacy of Dr. MLK Jr. Across the United States through Service

January 20, 2017
Eric Olsen

“At some point, your generation needs to decide what your legacy will be. You need to start thinking about that now. Because at some point, the mantle of leadership will be given to you and this world will be yours to govern.”

On January 16, Global Peace Youth-USA and partners joined thousands across the United States to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a national holiday, many made their day off a day on in service to their community. In Atlanta, Civil Rights leader Dr. Gerald Durley emphasized the importance of teaching the next generation how to serve.

Volunteers make there day off a day on for MLK Day in service
Volunteers work hard spreading recycled wood chips at Lynndale Park.

Instead of retaliating despite the tremendous challenges during the Civil Rights era, Dr. King attempted to transform the hearts of man, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the human family in a time of great fragmentation across the country. He said, “I can never be what I ought to be when you are not what you ought to be and you cannot be what you ought to be when I am not what I ought to be.”

With divisions widening across the country and world, service is an appropriate platform for people with different backgrounds and views to find common ground in serving a common good. President of the Black Heritage Foundation in Billings reminded the audience that the blood that courses through our veins is the same color.

In Far Rockaway, New York, after volunteering with SBP – Friends of Rockaway, an organization dedicated to support families still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy from over four years ago, student leaders from Macaulay Service Initiative (MSI) shared about the transformative power of service, not just in the community they served but also within themselves. 

Recognizing the importance of strengthening social cohesion, volunteers shared how service is an integral component for the betterment of this world. “No matter where we come from, what language we speak, or the color of our skin, living to serve the greater good should forever remain a top priority in whatever capacity we choose to live.”

Volunteers in Far Rockaway huddle for a group photo in a home they helped to insulate.

Looking at the leaders of today and tomorrow, City of Lynnwood Councilmember Ian Cotton said, “At some point, your generation needs to decide what your legacy will be. You need to start thinking about that now. Because at some point, the mantle of leadership will be given to you and this world will be yours to govern.”

MLK Day is the start of a 40-day campaign to promote peace and community through daily acts of kindness and service. Global Peace Youth USA coordinated projects in four regions across the country together with the National Corporation for Community Services, Service for Peace and local partners within each region.

In Atlanta, Georgia, projects included serving the homeless, power-washing and painting over graffiti, a food and clothing drive and a march for peace and unity. In serving the homeless community, several homeless individuals assisted in food distribution. District Director of Congressman Lewis’ office, Aaron Ward, was inspired saying, “Your contribution is the greatest gift you can give to others in honor of Dr. King.”

Volunteers paint over graffiti in East Atlanta and distribute food to local homeless.

In Billings, Montana, the entire weekend was committed to MLK celebrations including a dinner with local leaders, a memorial walk, and a collection drive to strengthen relationships with the local American Indian community. Yellowstone County Commissioner was impressed by the weekend of events not just for its celebrations but its service. “It’s [about] getting out and doing things.”

Volunteers show their excitement before they head to work at the Friendship House.

In Edmonds, Washington, students and faculty from Edmonds Community College started their day with a blessing from the Snohomish tribe before clearing the trails at a nearby park removing invasive plants and planting native plants and trees. After the project, volunteers gathered to listen to native stories and songs.

In Far Rockaway, NY, volunteers insulated ceilings and applied drylock in two homes. They traveled from early in the morning and worked until the evening. Many students were on break before the semester started, but they still decided to use that time to serve on that day. One volunteer was shocked to discover that he was volunteering in the same home he helped rebuild 4 years ago.

Ampofo Mensah, a graduate of Binghamton University described the impact of serving saying, “I have been to this place only once before and it’s ironic volunteering in a home I worked on almost 4 years ago.” For many, this project was nostalgic. “Like many other people, I also felt the impact of Hurricane Sandy, but not to [this] extent” said Monica Chan, student of Macaulay Honors College. “There are still people who still need help.”  

In Lynnwood, WA, volunteers spread 50 cubic feet of recycled wood chips throughout Lynndale Park, covering 5,000 feet of tree rings to support the opening of the nearby school. Volunteers assembled 100 care packages for United Services Organization to give to veterans traveling through SeaTac airport and made signs with positive messages for Meadowdale Elementary School.

Volunteers create posters for local elementary school
Volunteers design a poster to highlight leadership for local elementary school.

Meadowdale Elementary School dedicates the entire week to Dr. King with what is called “Respect for All Week.” This year’s theme was “EAGLES Live the Dream” inspired by Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The students were encouraged to build a family culture in school. They also exemplified community leadership by gathering over 2,750 items for the local food bank.

Starting 2017 in service set the tone for what continually needs to be done to build peace in communities around the nation and world. Young people can take the lead. As Angela Chi, student at Macaulay Honors College, expressed, “I was reminded today that my generation has so many passionate people who have so much excitement to make their communities better, to bridge tensions in their communities.”

View the gallery: MLK Celebrated through Service

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