By Blake Benton, corps member serving at Beech Street Elementary School
While schools and other state and federal offices were closed, City Year and other AmeriCorps members participated in a full day of service on Monday, January 20th, 2014 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. The day focused around poverty and service, topics that were important to Dr. King, especially later in his lifetime.
We began our morning by convening at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, where we had the wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with other passionate AmeriCorps members from around the state of New Hampshire. We were next treated to a wonderful presentation, in which the chaplain of the University of New Hampshire spoke about the issue of poverty, including how it is connected to other social justice topics like access to education and hunger. We then broke off into a dozen or so discussion groups, in which two or three City Year Corps Members led their fellow AmeriCorps members in a discussion of poverty. We discussed why poverty is still an important issue, as well as what Dr. King would have to say about the work that still is left to be done regarding poverty, were he alive today.
AmeriCorps and City Year members partook in a lovely meal, after which we broke off into our small groups for our service project of the day. Between the hours of noon and two o’clock, you may have seen groups of City Years going door to door throughout Manchester collecting non-perishable food items, which were then donated to a local food bank. The final total of food collected that day came it at just over one thousand pounds!
The day concluded with a wonderful ceremony held at a local Greek Orthodox Church. The event was attended by several NH elected officials, including the governor of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan. Also in attendance was the former governor, now senator, Jeanne Shaheen who signed Martin Luther King Day into law for the state of New Hampshire, as previously the Granite State was the last state in the union to make this important day an official government holiday.
The ceremony was filled with wonderful jazz music from a local high school ensemble, and awards were presented to local public school students who had competed in art and essay contests, meant to honor the legacy of Dr. King’s work. Also in attendance were two community members who received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award, given to celebrate the work that they have done to honor the legacy and ideologies of Dr. King. Additionally, the closing ceremony included a moving address by the esteemed Shujaa Graham. The speaker shared his life’s story, and discussed how capital punishment and poverty are interconnected. This speaker’s message echoed sentiments heard throughout the day: poverty is still a very real problem that is interconnected with other facets of social inequality, including access to education and food.
The words and experiences shared throughout the day were certainly eye-opening, and caused us all to reflect on the incredible legacy of Dr. King, as well as the work that still needs to be done in order to make his dreams realities.