Two years ago, my wife and I decided to begin volunteering together as a great way to spend the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. We decided to go with a group of friends from church to help City Year Detroit paint murals and clean up a school in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. We had a great time and vowed never to spend the holiday on the couch again.
Mind you, things are different this year. My wife now works for the agency, so she had to work the event which left me free to get dirty volunteering.
Our day started with a rally, where Congressman Hansen Clarke reminded all of us that a poor kid from Detroit’s east side can still dream big and accomplish those dreams. City Year Detroit’s enthusiastic Executive Director Penny Bailer spoke glowingly of her time working in Washington DC during the early 1960’s when President John F. Kennedy was in the White House and Dr. King was making his I Have A Dream speech. She still carries that spirit with her today, and used that energy to implore us all to remember that the best way to honor Dr. King was by remaining in service to each other, just as Dr. King would do if he were still alive today.
As I pulled into the parking lot at Bow Elementary on the city’s northwest side, you could tell the place was buzzing with activity. Some volunteers were in the auditorium painting over graffiti on the backs of the seats. Others were painting murals to be hung in common areas. A few were painting inspirational quotes on lockers and in classrooms. I was one of the people going through boxes to make sure the right supplies and books were in the right classrooms.
The building is home to many new students, picked up from schools that have been closed in an effort to reduce the seven figure budget deficits that plague Detroit Public Schools. Equipment and supplies from several other schools have been loaded in to each classroom, leaving little room for students or teachers to move around. The school Principal walked through every classroom thanking every volunteer she could find, knowing that tomorrow her students and teachers are in for a nice surprise.
What struck me were the number of participants and where they came from. Company volunteer teams were out in force, as were students and retirees. Families and church groups were pitching in to help as well. People of many different races and of many different nationalities were working side by side, with the common purpose of helping transform the learning environment of this school.
For one day in a city often derided for being one of America’s most racially segregated, talk proceeded by action seemed to be pulling everyone at Bow Elementary closer to the realization of the dream Dr. King wanted so desperately for our country.