In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. posed a challenge to all of us when he asked: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?" He believed in what he called the Beloved Community—a world in which the well-being of an individual is intrinsically tied to that of their neighbors, and a belief that we are stronger and better when we work together. His focus on service and community building served as inspiration for the national service movement, including launching the Corporation for National and Community Service, home of AmeriCorps and host of National Day of Service each MLK Jr. Day.
Thousands of Americans, including City Year AmeriCorps members, corporate sponsors and community partners across country, commemorate Dr. King’s legacy through service projects in their communities. This year, we are spotlighting City Year Dallas AmeriCorps members and staff, who, with the help of corporate sponsors and community members, came together to beautify one of the schools we serve in northwest Dallas.
Classes weren’t held on Martin Luther King Day, Jr., a national holiday. Yet, walking through the hallways of Francisco “Pancho” Medrano Middle School, visitors received lots of smiles and friendly greetings. Feel-good music played from a stereo as more than 120 people of different ages and backgrounds worked together to beautify the inside and outside of the school. Scores of City Year Dallas AmeriCorps members and community and corporate volunteers, filled the mostly blank walls of Medrano Middle School with murals that reflected the fun, creative and diverse environment that already exists here.
On typical school days, Francisco “Pancho” Medrano Middle School serves roughly 1,000 students, most of whom are Hispanic and many of whom speak a language other than English at home. More than 90 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, an indicator of socio-economic status. Those statistics, however, do not capture the strong sense of community and shared purpose that permeates the school.
Like many schools, however, Medrano Middle School needed a bit of sprucing up. Research has shown that the condition of school buildings can play a role in whether students feel safe and supported. One study found that the physical environment in which a child learns is integral in fostering creativity, critical thinking and learning and also promotes positive health outcomes.
“Today is important because we get to come out and make Dr. King’s dream come alive again,” said Shawanda Porter, an AmeriCorps member serving with City Year Dallas. “We're here, we’re serving, there's a lot of diversity amongst the group, and we’re just having a good time in the spirit of Martin Luther King.”
In one part of the building, volunteers painted images of activists and leaders who also embody the spirit of The Beloved Community. Murals of South African President Nelson Mandela, labor leaders and civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and President Barack Obama now grace the stairwells. The hope is that as the students walk past these leaders every day, they will know that they, too, can fight for justice, serve others and reach their dreams.
Bill Burleson, a volunteer with Santander Consumer USA, a national City Year partner whose foundation, The Santander Consumer USA Inc. Foundation, sponsors a team in City Year Dallas, shared what brought him out to serve on MLK Day this year. “I wanted to serve my community, and not just serve the community, but do something that brings meaning to the kids,” he said. “I want young children growing up, aspiring to do different things in the world, to know that there’s more to life than just sitting around in your own comfort zone. It's about getting out and giving back to the community.”
Outside the school, there is an open green space where volunteers build park benches. The overcast clouds block the sun, making it a little chilly, but the volunteers are in good spirits. City Year AmeriCorps member Rafael Zamora, a former student at Medrano Middle School, is clearly proud to be giving back to his alma mater. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to be here doing activities outside my service site,” Rafael said.
By the end of the day, the school had been transformed into a brighter, more attractive and more thought-provoking space for students and teachers, a tangible example of the impact that City Year Dallas has in its schools and community.
The project to beautify and support one middle school is an example of what happens when community members rally around the idea that “everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” And through the spirit of connection, interaction and change making, Medrano Middle School is one more space in the city of Dallas that is a testament to Dr. King’s memory.