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MLK Day 2019
This year marks the 33rd national observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Monday would be his 90th birthday.
Audra Clark wants people to feel excited about what’s happening in Kansas City public schools.
And to her, there’s no better time to do that than on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when students and community members come together to paint school walls with portraits of influential figures of American history, art, literature and science, along with some of their most memorable quotes.
In large, colorful letters, words written or spoken by King, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Abraham Lincoln, Frida Kahlo, as well as Kansas City, Kan., native Janelle Monáe stick out from the plain, light-colored walls in hallways above lockers and water fountains.
“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world...,” reads one from Malala Yousafzai, an activist for girls’ education from Pakistan who was shot by the Taliban in 2012.
Clark, executive director of the education-based nonprofit City Year in Kansas City, looks forward to painting again alongside members of the community, as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
This year, Clark and members of City Year AmeriCorps will join students, staff and community members at Northeast Middle School, one of its partner schools, for its third annual event. Full-time tutors and mentors from City Year work in the schools with the goal of keeping students on track to graduate high school.
As in previous years, they want to help paint murals inspired by King’s legacy of service and leadership in the civil rights movement.
“It just means so much to the school, and it means so much that all these people care and they come out,” said Clark, “What I love hearing about it is when the kids come to school the next day and hear how excited they are to see all the murals.”
Students and faculty help choose what goes on the walls. About 50 murals were sketched and filled in with paint on the walls of Northeast High School last year. The year before that, they painted at the Central Academy of Excellence.
Clark estimates about 300 people will pick up paint brushes or participate in one of their other activities this year.
In part, Clark says, she wants “to make school a place where kids want to be and feel welcome.”
“It’s really fun,” Clark said. “I think it’s just really cool to look around and see all these different people from all walks of life who come out to help beautify the school and give back.”
Elsewhere in Kansas City, Alicia Douglas is preparing for another Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event, where around 120 Rockhurst University students will work with several different organizations, including KC Mothers in Charge and Heartland Conservation Alliance.
Douglas, who has served as the university’s director of community relations and outreach for about 18 years, says the students’ efforts are not just about doing some community service for someone in need — “it’s about being in a relationship with our community and with the folks in our community.”
“We have a lot of discussions on what it means to be an inclusive campus — an inclusive community — and that’s something we want to live out in our Jesuit value, and part of that Jesuit heritage is about social justice and creating a just world, and a lot of of that is at the heart of what King spoke about.” Douglas said. “Being at the core of our heritage, it makes sense for us to celebrate him and his work. It’s in complete alignment with who we are.”
Before students split into groups and set out for the day, they’ll get together during the university’s interfaith prayer service at 1 p.m. Jan. 21 in Arrupe Hall Auditorium. The service is open to the public.
Students from Metropolitan Community College have also planned to participate in a variety of projects across five campuses in and around Kansas City.
From cleaning kennels for homeless pets to sorting donated items for thrift stores, the college will spend part of the day volunteering for several different organizations, including Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Hillcrest Hope Thrift Store and First Hand Foundation.
Over at the Penn Valley campus in Kansas City, Shelby Coxon, coordinator of the campus life and leadership office, will lead the charge come Jan. 21. About 30 or 40 of Coxon’s students will lend helping hands at a boutique for Connections to Success and Unleashed Pet Rescue, a Mission animal shelter.
“Any time we can get to a physical location instead of doing stuff here on campus, I think it’s more meaningful,” Coxon said.
In thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Coxon recites the college’s mission: “Preparing students, serving communities and creating opportunities.” In Coxon’s mind, the day is a perfect example.
“When you talk about preparing students, we’re not just preparing them in the classroom, but we’re preparing them to really get out and be positive leaders and be able to positively impact their communities whether they stay here in Kansas City or move off to a different community,” Coxon said.
Several volunteer opportunities are planned in the Kansas City area on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and throughout the year.
A website for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, has a search tool to help volunteers find service projects at nationalservice.gov/serve.