By Sarah O'Connor
On Monday, January 18th, in celebration of the Martin Luther King Day holiday, over 200 people from thirty organizations gathered at the Blackstone Innovation School for the Sixth Annual MLK Day of Action. This day was organized collaboratively by St. Stephen's Youth Programs, the Blackstone Innovation School, City Year, the Massachusetts Service Alliance, and the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign. Volunteers from the South End community, numerous AmeriCorps groups, and churches and other faith institutions from across greater Boston spent the day brightening hallways with colorful paint, organizing the school library (which is run by St. Stephen's and staffed by partner church volunteers), building classroom storage space, and creating educational materials for lessons. A team also reclaimed the greenhouse from cacti that have been growing for more than four decades, creating areas for desert and temperate flora and preparing for spring science projects.
State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz was there with her staff team. They worked with teens from St. Stephen's Youth Programs and Hidri Boston, an Eritrean youth group, to paint four murals of heroes with Puerto Rican heritage, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and independence movement leader Dr. Ramon Betances. These murals will be displayed in the Blackstone School entrance area to inspire students toward similar greatness. Senator Chang-Diaz said that being part of this Day of Action was an opportunity to live out King-like values by "praying with our feet."
During a community conversation to draw meaning from the day, participants reflected on the day's theme of moving from service to justice. Adults and teens spoke about applying lessons from their work and discussed this quote by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on." One teen shared her thoughts on why this Day of Action mattered: "[W]hen we all work together to make my school better, I see that my school matters to other people. I see that I matter to other people."
For more information about how you can build relationships with young people at the Blackstone Innovation School and in the South End, please contact Maureen Burns, St. Stephen's Youth Programs' School and Community Organizer at firstname.lastname@example.org.