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MLK Day Reflection

January 30, 2013

By Matt Durham, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Langston Hughes Academy

“We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the world. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.”

Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

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The grounds of Arthur Ashe before service.

For City Year Corps members, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not a day off, but a day on. Sites all across the country engage in service projects, working with local community organizations and the schools in which we serve. Our site’s event is facilitated by a committee made up of corps members, on which I served as a service director.  Last week, I believe that the City Year New Orleans Corps made Dr. King proud.

Our service focused on providing a school in need with the beginnings of a garden that will eventually be used by the students to learn about sustainable agriculture and nutrition. I know from my experience at Langston Hughes Academy that a garden provides a truly unique learning environment for scholars who might otherwise not get the opportunity to explore in a traditional classroom.

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Volunteers hard at work.

Our day of service took a lot of hard work from a lot of hard working people in order to be the success that it was. I don’t think I could have asked to be placed among a group of more dedicated and driven colleagues than the ones I worked with. Just about every day for the past few months we would stay after school for countless hours, poring over every detail, making sure we left no stone unturned.

Yet however much sleep we lost was more than worth it when the big day rolled around. On what turned out to be a beautiful January morning in New Orleans around 300 volunteers from across the city turned out to help make our plans a reality. We had volunteers ripping up sod to prepare for what will one day be garden beds. Some volunteers dug holes for holly and citrus trees. Others built benches and picnic tables. Still others painted a mural and beautified trash cans. We even had teams go out into the surrounding neighborhood and set up community signs.

As the service coordinator for the day my role was to manage all the different moving parts we had going: volunteers, City Year corps members, our service partners, and the countless staff members from various organizations helping us out. And as it turned out, all those extra hours we all put into planning the day were worth it. The day went off without a hitch, and our volunteers left feeling satisfied, and this being New Orleans, well-fed!

When we sat down as a committee to hash out goals for the day, one of them was to inspire a stronger culture of service in our city. Our hope was that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day we organized would not be just a day of service for volunteers, but the start of their service. I can’t speak for everyone in attendance that day, but I know that I left feeling inspired and amazed not only by my peers, but by the joy I saw on so many people’s faces knowing they just helped to strengthen their community. Maybe this will be the start of something greater.

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The grounds of Arthur Ashe after City Year New Orleans’ MLK Day of Service.

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