Amidst a diversity-rich community, Martin Luther King Day is clearly not just another day at East Side House. This year, East Side House celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King with two important activities in its youth and family programs.
One celebration was aimed at keeping the dream alive through literacy in the family. As part of East Side House and United Way of NYC’s Ready NYC Initiative, more than 20 families traveled by bus to Manhattan to participate in a three hour celebration at furniture manufacturer, Steelcase. As part of the company’s commitment to promoting diversity in the community, Steelcase invited East Side House’s ReadNYC third graders and their families for lunch and a workshop.
Company staff welcomed children and their parents with a brief introduction and gathered everyone together for a kid-friendly video presentation about Martin Luther King. The video prepared children for a group discussion focused on how people with differences can work together toward a common goal. Inspired by what they saw, young participants shared thoughts with facilitators about dreams they had. Later during a craft activity, parents and children traced their hands to symbolize how everyone, no matter what color or race, has a place in Dr. King’s dream.
This special visit was all about early introduction for children to the themes of social justice and the importance of service. “The very first step in creating positive change in one’s community is believing that that change is possible,” said the Program Coordinator. Instilling the message of Martin Luther King, Ashley says is something families can do best by learning side by side with their children.
And Back in the Bronx…
Mitchel Community Center was also the site of this year’s Keeping The Dream Alive Youth Forum. For this event, open to the entire community, East Side House partnered with New York City-based Connect Inc. The event’s focus was addressing issues of diversity and leadership in today’s culture, by using the lessons of the past.
Over 100 participants took part in this all-day-event that combined guest speakers, arts activities, and games with open discussion about race in America. Althea Stevens, Director of Community Based Programs, who co-organized the event, said opening a dialogue on Martin Luther King’s legacy is critical to today’s youth programming. “We can’t turn our back on teaching this generation about Dr. King,” said Althea, “Now more than ever, we need to hear it because the reality of racism is not over.”
The event opened with icebreaker games to help introduce the forum’s themes of non-judgement, inclusion and the beauty of differences. Workshops, co-facilitated by Connect Inc , were organized for elementary, middle and high school grade levels. Each session helped students express their feelings about their own dreams and how to navigate prejudice.
In a powerful panel presentation for older students, three former gang members shared harrowing stories of how bad choices had temporarily led them away from their dreams. “It truly opened a lot of eyes in that room,” said Althea. Afterward, groups discussed how challenging issues within communities like drugs, violence and peer pressure can be obstacles, but each individual has the power to be a positive influence.
During the event, participants were encouraged to come up with their own action plan for how to keep their own dreams alive. Participants were challenged to identify small ways to help their friends and community members toward their dreams as well. After all, the true meaning of the day was to show how a community can work together to lift the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Leaving the event, participants posed before a photo booth with brightly colored action plan posters. “We want them to remember what they talked about here and keep working toward those goals,” said Althea.