Nearly 49 years after Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his final speech in Memphis, Dr. King's legacy of hope and compassion continues to inspire communities throughout our country and around the world. His timeless ethics transformed the country by leading the Civil Rights Movement to victory, and although his life was cut tragically short, Dr. King will always be remembered for pulling the needle of the American moral compass northward. Dr. King did not only spur a social revolution into being; he also spurred a revolution of the spirit. On January 14th 2017, members from across our community gathered to commemorate Dr. King's passion for service at Palo Verde High Magnet School. The annual event is sponsored by AmeriCorps, and the invaluable support from our school, became the largest service event for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the state of Arizona this year.
Despite the chilly, grey, early Saturday morning, students, staff, volunteers and community members spilled into the auditorium for the Opening Ceremony. Student Ambassador and Event Emcee, Eric Oum, greeted the crowd and directed attention toward the purpose of the gathering: to honor Dr. King's legacy through collaboration and community service. Through a beautifully crafted video, Eric interpreted Dr. King's final speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," and incorporated thoughtful commentary dubbed over clips of footage from the Civil Rights era. Assistant Principal and former AmeriCorps volunteer, Renee Arakaki, then took the stage to relate the core principles of AmeriCorps to Dr. King's vision for a better society by analyzing the AmeriCorps creed one line at a time, demonstrating the value of community service and the potential it holds to bring people together and eliminate injustice. Renee offered concrete examples of how Palo Verde and AmeriCorps this year have jointly combated poverty, through biweekly Resource Events, the establishment of the daily After-School Meals Program, and the creation of our brand-new College and Career Center. Two extraordinary Palo Verde students followed with poignant, original poetry performances, relating modern day themes to the Civil Rights era and recreating provocative images from the 1960's Civil Rights marches. Finally, Stefanie Mach, former Arizona Representative, took the stage with a casual, yet powerful demeanor that left the audience in awe. Through a tale of immense personal achievement over self-doubt, Ms. Mach emphasized the importance of looking beyond ourselves to the greater concerns of society and how accountability to each other creates great change. Her speech completed one of Dr. King's quotes very aptly: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity"
After the opening ceremony, volunteers and community members participated in two sessions of 11 educational workshops sponsored and led by AmeriCorps members. These workshops covered vital issues including Food Equality, Refugees in Arizona, Alternatives to Violence Project, Health and Education in Low Income Communities, Financial Empowerment, and more. These workshops served to better inform each volunteer of the importance of their work in a local, applicable context and how Dr. King’s vision could best be applied to specific situations. Our workshop leaders artfully created interactive presentations for approximately 15 people per session, each from a different background with a unique understanding of the issue at hand. Thanks to the leaders’ hard work, the volunteers moved forward to the service projects with enthusiasm and a deep passion to serve.
Following the educational workshops, volunteers had the opportunity to socialize and relax during lunch before the main event: the service projects. For Palo Verde, this included a variety of activities: painting the sun-worn doors in the courtyard, cleaning various areas around the campus, beautifying the wetlands at the heart of campus, reorganizing classrooms at teachers’ requests, and beginning to paint and set up the new College and Career Center. While participating in the service projects and observing the amazing teamwork apparent among the volunteers and our incredible staff, we felt that we truly appreciated the goals articulated by each of our outstanding speakers, and indeed espoused by Dr. King himself. It was a stunning example of community cohesion and a testament to the immense change people can accomplish by taking action together. This reminds us of another very popular quote of Dr. King’s: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” Although each project contained a variety of small and seemingly insignificant tasks, they amounted to a rejuvenated school atmosphere and community when combined.
When the service projects were finished for the day, we all reconvened to reflect on the values of Dr. King and how to further continue his legacy in our everyday lives. This moving reflection period reaffirmed the sense of community we all felt individually throughout the day and brought them into the open. Although exhausted from the day’s various activities, we successfully completed what Dr. King urged us all to do: to rise above our individualistic concerns and contribute to a greater purpose. This service day was a perfect example of a community coming together, and it truly could not have happened without the incredibly generous support of our school administrators, faculty, staff, student groups, custodians, sponsors, Arizona Serve staff, fellow AmeriCorps members, and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. As the hosts of the event, we are very happy to say that our collective effort paid off. Thanks to the closeness of our community, we carried on Dr. King’s legacy today, and will continue to carry this out in the future.
All the best,
Brandon Di Gregorio & Frannie Neal