By Deanna Bennett, Community HealthCorps Member at Central Valley Health Network (CVHN)
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
Service is a significant component of being an AmeriCorps member. Since 1994, AmeriCorps members have engaged in service in order to meet the needs of the nation in essential areas including health. As AmeriCorps members, we serve in the community generally as individuals under the umbrella of our perspective service areas. Strength is in numbers and participating in service projects allows members to come together and provide service as a team. This enhances the ability of the member to serve in the community even after their term of service.
On January 16, 2012, CVHN Community HealthCorps (AmeriCorps) members served as a team to commemorate and honor a man who dedicated his life to civil rights and community service, Martin Luther King, Jr. Although King’s birthday is considered a national holiday, over the years people have been encouraged to use this day to provide community service. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the day is referred to as “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.” The idea is that people should look at the day as “a day on and not a day off’. This means that the day should be used to serve the community instead of a day of self fulfillment.
The MLK March event hosted by MLK365 is also known as the March for the Dream. This is a free event that attracts around 20,000 Northern Californians. Participants are from diverse backgrounds and interests. The event is an opportunity for people to come together to march as well as celebrate the universal values of freedom, social justice and equality that King exhibited. This was the first year that each mile had a theme. My favorite example of this was mile 3, entitled “Community Ownership”; participants were encouraged to take ownership of their community and help support MLK365 with text donations. Marchers began to arrive at the Sacramento Convention Center after 10:30am. The Sacramento Convention Center had several areas for activities and vendors. Vendors represented several types of community services including public health, education, and volunteer organizations. Once marchers reached the Sacramento Convention Center, they were greeted with a variety of interesting activities for people of all ages, many of which were provided by the vendors.
This year’s theme was “Education”. Teachers from across the region hosted an Education Village for students in kindergarten through middle school featuring: crafts, face painting, movies, singing, and various types of educational resources. Multiple college representatives were in attendance, including Stanford University, to provide essential information regarding their perspective campuses and admissions processes. There was a Multicultural Talent Showcase of Stars and Dramatic Actors Improv performance in one of the exhibit halls. A Wisdom Corner was available to hear poetry, stories and life lessons from past generations for younger generations. All of these activities are important to the community because this is one of the few opportunities for the community to come together and learn from others and share in the spirit of King. Although there was an emphasis on the life and history of African Americans, the event was about bringing people of all cultures, religions and socioeconomic statuses together. It was an opportunity for people to learn about the man that paid the ultimate price to bring social justice and equality for all.
As Community HealthCorps (AmeriCorps) members, we served in several capacities at the event. Members provided hospitality to participants at the Sacramento Convention Center. When marchers entered the Convention Center AmeriCorps Members greeted them and gave them each a sticker to reflect their participation in the March. Participants were able to turn to AmeriCorps members for directions and information about activities and eateries in and around the Convention Center. During the talent showcase, members assisted with ensuring the safety of spectators and participants in the event by ushering marchers into the appropriate seating areas. Towards the conclusion of the event, AmeriCorps members distributed Regional Transit passes to interested parties. The passes allowed people to ride the bus and light rail throughout the day for free. This was especially essential for people who needed to return to their cars parked at the starting points of the march.
I took the opportunity to talk to people at the event. The most interesting conversation occurred during my lunch break with a woman who was selling a newspaper entitled “Street Newspaper.” This is a newspaper sold by homeless or poor people to assist in aiding efforts for this population. The woman commented she was hungry and I offered her a seat and the other half of my sandwich and chips. The woman commented that no one had ever offered such a gesture. Soon another woman came out from the Convention Center and stated she was looking for somewhere to eat her lunch. I offered for her to sit down at our table. We all began to converse. The woman selling the newspaper soon began to tell her story. She stated that she receives social security every month and after bills are paid, she does not have enough for food. The other woman and I began to offer resources to the woman selling the newspaper. I had to go back into the Convention Center but I walked away with so much. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?” This is a call for service and Community HealthCorps (AmeriCorps) answered that call. As Community HealthCorps (AmeriCorps) members we pledge to “Get Things Done,” and this is exactly what we did at our first service event in 2012.