By: Nathan Tigges


Wrapping up the day on Monday we were asked to talk about what we learned and what was gained from Martin Luther King Day this year. Reflecting on this question I think one of the most important things I learned is the value of service on this esteemed holiday. For many, MLK Day is just another day off in the year. Another chance to go skiing, catch up on sleep or do nothing at all just for the sake of nothing.


On MLK Day this year the corps hosted a camp for students with activities to remind us of the importance of MLK and the civil rights movement and what it means all these years later. I was astounded by the eagerness of the kids to participate and contribute to the conversation. What I came away with this Monday was a sense of pride and hope in my community.


The day started off with a reading activity about Martin Luther King’s life and accomplishments followed by a group project to put together a timeline of the events of his life and a discussion on the long term effects and goals as outlined by King’s I Have a Dream speech. Kids worked alongside Corps members to figure out the events of his life and the events surrounding it that led to the Civil Rights Movement.


After lunch, the next activity was a project where students created depictions of themselves, surrounding a world and sharing a personal dream and a dream for their community. There were some powerful messages and thoughts being shared by the kids. Many kids shared dreams of being doctors and lawyers while others shared visions of the world coming together to solve problems facing both our society and our planet.


The thing that stuck out in my mind was the practice of the line from Martin Luther King’s speech, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Despite varying and different backgrounds, students, alumni, volunteers and corps members came together and shared with each other, learned from each other and grew as a group. For those that didn’t speak English, Spanish workers helped them to understand and participate in the events. We collaborated as a whole to translate part of Dr. King’s speech into American Sign Language, a learning experience that benefited the whole group in seeing things, perhaps, from a new prospective.


The day was undeniably long but not in the negative connotations that we usually associate with a long day. I left feeling tired yet exhilarated. Hours afterwards and even into the next day I pondered what had been learned and what I can do in my part, no matter how small, to help build a future where our content matters more than outward physical and cultural appearances.


I think of the tumultuous times that we live in and the hardships that many in our community face. It is, in these days, hard to forget what so many have fought for before us to ensure that people have the same chance at success and happiness. In light especially of the racial injustice still surrounding this country I think service is an excellent response to the suffering we see around us. Rather than taking the day off I think it is important that we strive to honor Dr. King’s vision in whatever way that we can. When I wrote my dreams for a community that I’d like to see I didn’t feel like I had enough time to reflect. I wrote that I’d like to see space exploration achieved through international cooperation. I still believe this but as I’ve reflected on what we did in service on Monday I think that more important for my community would be seeing more people taking time on a holiday to serve and give back to a society that struggles sometimes with doing so.


When I joined City Year it was in the idea that I have been afforded many privileges in my life that few enjoy. If I can make an impact on at least one student then I think I can rest easy. I look to my fellow corps members and the volunteers who gave up time in their busy schedules and cannot begin to express my gratitude for accepting me into their fold and contributing on such an important day. My hopes are that come next year, people who participated remember this experience and share it with others. I hope that next year more people are encouraged to give back in even the tiniest way and acknowledge the future that Dr. King strove for in this country and this world.


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