When MLK Day of Service Becomes a Movement

There's something inspiring about seeing people from different walks of life come together for a common cause greater than themselves. 

MLK Day of Service Florida

This year's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service has inspired me and left me unable to write at the same time because of the enormity of what happened in our small community - MLK Day of Service in St. Augustine has become a movement. 

As a writer, I am not one for crowds and being in the spotlight, but I often find myself in situations where it is necessary because of the causes I want to support or get involved with. When this happens, it is preceded by sleepless nights and lots of planning, and afterward I truly just want to decompress by writing, reading, or spending time in the garden or at the beach. Sometimes that's impossible.

A few years ago, my children started a local nature society to get help cleaning our community's trash-littered streets and ditches. It started out slowly with just a neighbor or two showing up for events, but we kept on going, dragging a trash can around, and bringing trash home to go out with the regular garbage collection.

Then one year we planned the first big MLK Day of Service cleanup event and the Interact Club from the local high school wanted to join. We were excited about getting a handful of volunteers, but they just kept on coming. After the event, there was a mountain of trash left in front of the school, and we were baffled. Amazed and unsure of what to do with the trash, we contacted the county and that's how the kids' nature society became a part of the county's Adopt-A-Road program, which meant that the county collected the bagged trash, and lent us grabbers, gloves, and trash bags. 

Joining up with other groups, local businesses, and school clubs became our mission, and the MLK Day of Service Cleanup event kept on growing so much that we had too many volunteers and too many cars in our neighborhood. 

Last year we teamed up with another local organization that I had become involved in, and we moved the MLK Day event to the historic African American cemeteries to spread the volunteers between a community cleanup and a cemetery cleanup. We ended up with more than 150 volunteers and once again, not enough parking. 

This year we thought we might get lucky to get 150 volunteers again, so we moved the event around the corner from the cemeteries to a huge field, where we still had access to the cemeteries and the surrounding streets. There were more community partners than ever, and we came prepared with more service forms for students and even more sign-in sheets, but it still wasn't enough. 

We don't have a clear count of how many people showed up, because once we got close to 200, we gave up counting. My kids did their thing. My 10-year-old daughter welcomed the volunteers, my 4-year-old son inspired by standing next to his siblings, and my high school boys introduced the community partners, gave instructions, and sent people on their way, while I organized, delegated jobs, and tried to keep a clear head despite the fact that a couple of local news stations showed up. 

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Here's the thing, while I can't stand being in front of a lot of people, and while I can't stand being in the spotlight, it doesn't seem like I am when I'm running around signing student service papers or giving instructions to people who've come out to do good. When it's necessary, dedication to a cause and the necessity take over, and I just power through. 

It truly takes a village, and we couldn't do it alone. A friend took my two youngest children out to clean because that's what they want to do, and I no longer have the time to do it with them. Another friend got together with a colleague and served breakfast to the volunteers. The support is incredible. When we do the cleanups, I no longer think about myself or my fears, and my kids just go into action mode, it is a community, an inclusive community where everyone is accepted, and where no one is above anyone else. 

When the kids started the nature society, we all wanted to make a difference, but none of us thought it would amount to anything other than just getting some trash off the street. This year it hit me that the MLK of Service Cleanup has become a movement, and as stewards of the Earth, we don't have a choice but to keep on going, making it better every year. 

Better doesn't mean bigger. We can always learn from mistakes, or from problems that pop up, and after this year's event, we have realized that this event, this movement, has become so great that we need to pull more people in than ever before, and the most surprising thing is that so many are willing to go the extra mile. We are getting organized in a very different way than before, pulling in people from other groups, planning way ahead of time, and delegating tasks and jobs like never before. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't do it alone. 

We've got the people to come out, now it is time to focus on the community part of the movement. When people from all walks of life come together to be a part of a community, amazing things can happen. 

As the event gets bigger and other leaders get involved, I see it as part of my job to ensure that it will always be an inclusive event where everyone feels welcome.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an accepting man who believed his mission was greater than himself, and he believed in inclusion. So as we carry on, it is important that we always look back at Dr. King's dedication to public service and inclusion. And this goes for me as well. Last night I realized that by trying to be inclusive, I may at times come of as not being so, and that is a balance I need to work on. 

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

When so many people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves there is no I, there's no us, there's just all of us. Starting the nature society was never about my kids or about me, and it still isn't. We are just stewards of the Earth leading the way, finding ways for everyone to do better. And we're not perfect, we drink bottled water on occasion, grab plastic bags at the store when we forget our reusable bags, and drink out of disposable cups if we are on the go getting fast food without our water bottles. 

All we can do is just try to do better, try to do something, try to do our best at doing better, and when we do that, we are doing better than doing nothing at all.