AmeriCorps Member Matt Reckdenwald is part of the Mound STEM Academy school team at City Year Cleveland this year. Below are some of his reflections on MLK Day and what the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. means to him:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.” Over the past five months of my service with City Year Cleveland, I’ve found myself coming back to this quote habitually in times of doubt.

Due to the nature of our work in schools and communities, it’s not uncommon to find a corps member doubting themselves, the service we’re committed to, and the ideals we stand for. After particularly trying days, it’s easy to find thoughts like “Is this all even worth it?” and “Am I really cut out for this?” running through your head. It’s easy to forget why you chose service with City Year.

However, it’s amazing quotes like this one that act as our anchors when the seas around us are rough and choppy, helping to keep us planted firmly until the storm passes overhead. That’s why finding inspiration in leaders for social change, such as Dr. King, is something that many corps members find themselves doing. Aligning your ideals with individuals who were catalysts for social justice allows you to reflect on the big picture of why your service is so important.

Dr. King believed that true leaders didn’t simply join movements, but rather that they are the individuals who create these movements. I must constantly remind myself that every injustice is an opportunity for me to organically create an outcome of positive change. My service can be the spark that ignites the flame. I can be the one who inspires others to break free from the systems that limit them. I can be the one who makes a difference and teaches others that it’s possible to do the same.
This is just one of the many reasons that, while many consider Martin Luther King Day a holiday and day off, City Year considers it a “day on”. Corps members around the country use January 19th not only as a day to perform service for the communities that have welcomed them as their own for the year, but also as an opportunity to reflect on why this work is so important.

Empowered by a supportive leadership team around me, I took advantage of the opportunity to be a part of City Year Cleveland’s MLK Day Committee, a sampling of young idealists tasked with organizing the day’s service activities for the entire corps! My teammates and I have united various community partners as volunteer group discussion facilitators who will give students a chance to reflect on what Dr. King, his ideals, and the beloved community mean to them. In addition, we’ve reached out to neighborhood businesses to assist with the donation of breakfast and lunch for both staff and students, who will be busy painting an MLK Day-inspired mural for permanent display in John Adams High School. Our small group of organizers is a testament to the power that young people possess when they come together in the name of a just cause.

Dr. King dreamt of a day when all children would be given the opportunity to reach their full potential, and we must reflect on why this dream starts with ensuring that every student is afforded a quality education. By filling the gap between what students need in order to thrive and what our education system actually provides for them, we can look forward to the day that each and every child we serve is judged solely on the content of their character.

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