Martin Luther King Jr. Day is traditionally a ‘day on’ for City Year, as opposed to a ‘day off’. This philosophy is one of City Year’s greatest values that inspired me to give a year of service. The fact that all twenty five City Year sites across the nation make it a priority to participate and organize service days that engage and involve thousands of community members is truly incredible. In honor of all that Dr. King did for our nation, sites like City Year D.C. and City Year L.A. partnered with thousands of volunteers, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, to bring some TLC to different schools in which they serve. Here in Sacramento, we had the unique opportunity to partner with a fellow nonprofit, MLK365, to organize and run one of the largest marches on the west coast.
The mission of MLK365 is to continue the work of the late Dr. King 365 days out of the year. Under the slogan of “Honoring the Past, Impacting the Future”, thousands of participants started the Capital March in the Oak Park community. Their six mile march grew as they crossed the Sacramento City College Campus and concluded on the west steps of the State Capital Building. This powerfully symbolic moment encouraged marchers to “Stand-Up, Speak-Out, and Make a Difference”. Bryan Van Ravenhorst, a City Year Team Leader who was stationed at the march, commented, “While we were the ones placed along the march to bring energy and excitement, we actually took a lot of inspiration from the thousands participating. It was so exciting to see our teachers, our students, district personnel, and community members all united for one purpose: continuing the movement started by Dr. King.”
The morning’s events built up to the Diversity Expo held at the Sacramento Convention Center. At this free event, 70+ groups, organizations, and businesses were able to set up booths that engaged over 28,000 attendees. Kids were also invited to participate in games and activities that deepened their knowledge of MLK and others who stood up for human rights. It was here that I saw City Year members doing what they do best, working with kids and opening their minds to new ideas and possibilities. This was most prevalent on the Dream Wall where kids shared their hopes and dreams for a better future.
To bring everything together, MLK365 showcased motivational speakers, local performers, and some of the brightest of Sacramento’s youth to share their talents with the thousands in attendance at the main stage. Some of the most powerful performances for me were the SAYS Poets, the St. Hope Student Readers, and the Ascension Praise Dancers. While their talents varied, they all captured the beauty of diversity, strength, and vision. Though it may be a bit bias, a truly amazing highlight was our Hmong Club Break Dancers from Rosa Parks K-8 that were able to perform. They partnered with the City Years from their school to choreograph their original performance that definitely energized the crowd.
Everyone I was able to meet throughout the day left motivated and inspired by this great act of unity and acceptance. This ‘day on’ was a true representation of the great work that Dr. King and other Civil Rights Leaders started. City Year, MLK365, and so many others in the Sacramento community embody what it really means to take Dr. King’s mission on as a 365 day commitment. With this work, I believe that Dr. King’s vision for his kids and all of America’s youth, to “…one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” will no longer be a dream, but a reality.