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Martin Luther King Jr. Day Reflections

Earlier this month our New York Area Volunteers had the opportunity to attend two different events highlighting the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how to continue to live out his life's mission. The following are their reflections from these events: 

"I have looked up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. since elementary school. I appreciated his blind faith to make a difference for ALL PEOPLE. His words and actions still ring true now more than ever. At the event, there were many panelists and artist to celebrate an inspiring leader. Poet Staceyann Chin said it best, "We have to find the courage to rise up..."  We as the new generation have the opportunity to rise up for all people, not just ourselves or a group that we most identify with. As a GSV, I have learned that I have to rise up for my youth, my community, and for my brothers and sisters. This event demonstrated how to be the next Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a time of hurt, confusion, anger, and need." -Emily Mazzola 

"On MLK day, I ventured to a MLK celebration in Brooklyn. At the celebration, there were many notable speakers like Opal Tometi who is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It was so powerful to be a part of this event and to feel the tremendous spirit of unity in the room. Yes, the goal of the event was to honor Martin Luther King Jr, but it was so much more than that. The speakers were electric and had the crowd cheering as they talked about how MLK's movement and message still ring true today more than ever. With the turbulent political climate of today, it is crucial that we look back at MLK and other civil rights leaders' messages and apply them to our daily lives. I took away a spirit of hope for the future, despite the unknown and quite honestly frightening future of our country behind this administration.  We must stand up together and use our voices to fight for equality because as MLK said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Today matters, black lives matter, and certain rights are still only granted to some. MLK helped lead the resistance in his time, now it is our time as Americans to stand up alongside each other united for change and equality."-Shannon Sophy

"Sitting in the Apollo Theatre, on MLK Boulevard in between Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglas Boulevards, in the historic neighborhood of Harlem, celebrating the life of one of the great leaders of the civil rights movement, will be one of the best memories of my GSV year.  The panel highlighted Dr. King's final speech, and the importance of his controversial political stance against the Vietnam War.  Themes of the discussion were power in unity, intersectionality of movements against oppression, and the need to take risks to disrupt current structures that maintain the systems of oppression.  The artists were most memorable for me. The spoken word poet, StaceyAnn Chin and Talib Kweli, one of the greatest socially conscious lyricists in Hip-Hop, delivered powerful performances.  The energy in the room was both overwhelming and beautiful.  I felt anger, sadness, inspiration and hope. Two quotes that spoke to me: "The level of our outrage does not match our action" by Shaun King and "How will History write about us?" by Natalie Aristizabal-Betancur." -Karina Winn

"I had the privilege of attending Brooklyn’s 31st annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This event was filled with music and empowering words and a group of people paying tribute to the work the Martin Luther King so strongly fought for. In a time of such turbulence in this country, I have taken one thing from this event, and that is that our work is still not finished. We must advocate for ourselves and for others to fight inequalities in a country that so strongly promotes freedom and equal rights. A commonality I found amongst the words spoken at this event is that Dr. King’s battle continues to this day. We are not finished striving for equality on all fronts." -Cynthia Garcia

"For Martin Luther King day I went to the Apollo Theater for a discussion on social justice in light of our recent president coming into office and how we can honor MLK's legacy. The event had a variety of gospel, spoken word, and panels that kept the event fast paced and interesting. I enjoyed the panels the most as they talked about specific things we could do to be supportive of minorities and to defy Trump's ideals. One thing that frustrated me was the spoken word. The artist used incendiary language to provoke emotions that I feel were more blame focused rather than promoting ways to band together. The event was long but by the end I felt empowered to stay informed and connected to MLK's legacy through my work and lifestyle in the coming years of Trump's presidency." -Anna Engstrom

"As a white liberal, I often freeze because I do not know how I can best support my brothers and sisters of color. This event reminded me that I shouldn't feel guilty or speechless because of the color of my skin, but instead I should show up and participate. I should listen, be engaged, and love my fellow beings. In this challenging time, we must be united for good. The spoken word and gospel singers shared beautiful messages of hope, with a dose of reality so carefully weaved in. I loved hearing about the history of MLK Jr, and comparing his life to the time in front of us today. It's not that different, and we are called to do what so many civil rights activists did years ago. We are called to use our voices for justice. The time is now." -Cheryl Rozinski

"In recent years, I find Martin Luther King Jr. Day to be hopeful, poignant, and somewhat concerning; and that mod podge of emotions has never felt so strong within me than it does this year. Perhaps I'm getting older, and perhaps I'm getting wiser.  That's because I was in the dark of how other people lived, I mean, truly lived, before doing a year of service. I am in no way a saint and am humbled by how much more I have yet to learn. However, now, I feel I'm listening and observing more than I knew how to before.  Before, this was a day off where I was most likely at home, doing homework, or seeing a friend on this extra day. I was not doing something intentional to commemorate this iconic civil rights leader. And never mind commemorate- I wasn't using my mind to critically think and I wasn't using my heart to openly feel. I was sedated, if you will, from what was going on around me or what has gone on in history. I memorized the facts for the test without letting those facts penetrate me enough to care. I was protected from the harshness and the struggle that minorities have faced and continue to face, due to white privilege and comfort, continually mollified by my coming-of-age environment. I cannot blame my parents, or my hometown or my upbringing. I can only state that diversity was not prevalent in my nurturing, and so I am slowly growing into that understanding of diversity.

And today, as interesting and compelling and somewhat jarring as it always is to be the minority, I let the compassion, yet discomfort, overtake me. I sat in a room full of black people, who were relating to their black brother's untimely death; a man who made it his life's mission to gain freedom for his fellow men and women of color, regardless how many times he was arrested or taken from his family. I sat there and I felt the compassion for each other swell over the crowd, but also, the fear and the overt concern for their safety in the days to come. A new president will soon take office who has not spoken kindly of any minority, and has not shown that he will support them in his words or in his actions. There is fear, there is concern, there is doubt, but there is also so much hope. There are cries for taking action- to not let the civil rights that have been gained to suddenly be outvoted and regressed, into what will hopefully play out by those in power, as a normalized occurrence, broadcast-ed as a facade, for the general good of the American people. There was also talk of Martin Luther King discussing the need to love thy enemies. This is not to mean the outpouring, believe-with-your-whole-heart love, but the kind of love that is granted respect and honor. That in times of uncertainty, we must fight with our compassionate, invigorating, and intellectual words along with our inner powers and prowess. We must resist violence, rude antics, and cruel phrases because we are indeed hurt and threatened. We must realize when we are together we are a great power. Together, the thousands of working ants are stronger than one oppressing grasshopper. So now, what lies before us is the most difficult battle of all: to meet hate with love." -Kristen Alestra 


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