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City Year Memphis and its new beloved community

By Mary DaVega, City Year Memphis ’17

Walking through the streets of Memphis, the visual history of the Civil Rights Movement is ever-present. A short walk from the FedEx Forum is Beale Street, the famed avenue in which thousands of sanitation workers marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless other leaders of the late 1960s. A stone’s throw away is the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and which now houses the National Civil Rights Museum.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is never far from the mind; the embodiment of his dream of social change and inclusivity is something that we constantly strive for. The service we achieve in schools with young people along with our MLK Day of Service are both endeavors that bring us closer together while making a step towards equality.

For the site’s startup year, City Year Memphis is serving within an elementary and middle school on the north side of town. While establishing the name, inclusivity, and sense of community of City Year, we deliver quality tutoring and mentoring to students of all ethnicities and creeds. 50% of the Corps Members who serve are native Memphians, and in the spirit of Southern hospitality, it is the goal of City Year Memphis to remain welcoming and inclusive to our partner teachers, students and their families.

Another way we strive to make an impact as a new City Year site is through our MLK Day of Service. As an organization that used to be primarily focused on physical service, City Year has held on to the importance of it through community service projects in order to provide an optimal work environment where students can learn and where the values of the community are strongly reflected. In planning the day of service, we envisioned artistic work that represented the communities we serve, projects that our students could use to enrich their academic work, and assemblies that have the ability to leave a mental imprint of the progress in social change.

The Brownsville Road Elementary Team constructed tables outside for our students so that we may give academic support in the fresh air. This will enable our students to view learning as a constant activity that doesn’t just belong within the walls of a classroom. They also painted rocks in various colors and words that depict the diversity of our school and community and, placed those rocks outside in an area near their newly constructed tables as a bright and vibrant reminder about the beauty in the differences of the world that is more relatable to our students.

The Westside Achievement Middle School Team painted an indoor mural that will inspire students to see themselves graduating on-track and on time. They hosted an assembly where students had the opportunity to learn more about hidden figures in the Civil Rights Era, utilizing student talent to portray those characters.

In addition to the service events that City Year Memphis took part in on January 11th, City Year Memphis corps and staff will participate in our first MLK service day on Monday, January 16th in Memphis at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. Activities for the day will focus on social justice, community service, and celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the city that was once the front line of the Civil Rights Movement, we serve in diverse schools that would make Martin Luther King Jr. proud. To uphold his dream, we remain idealists, empathizers, can-doers and people with a vision in mind through our community service projects and the day-to-day, one-on-one work with the youth of Memphis.

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