by Leah Shafer, AmeriCorps member serving on the State Street Foundation team with Higginson/Lewis K-8 School

Winter Flashback: February is Black History Month, and not long before the month began, our corps members served on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Today we revisit that experience and how our students continue to feel the impact of King's enduring legacy.

In January, City Year Boston celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day not as a day off, but as a day “on." The corps commemorated King’s work by discussing the past 50 years of civil rights and learning about ways to maintain youth advocacy. Throughout the day, I reflected on how I already felt closer to King’s legacy than I had in years. Serving in a Boston Public School, I see King’s face, quite literally, every day.

The image and words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are everywhere in Boston Public Schools. During our very first day as City Year AmeriCorps members, we performed physical service at the McKinley South End Academy. My team was in charge of painting a set of images that showed inspirational quotations accompanied by profiles of the speakers of those words. In the middle of the hallway, we painted King’s picture and his words “Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Students at McKinley now see this quotation every day between classes.

At the Higginson/Lewis K-8 School, where I serve, images of King abound. A picture greets visitors in the front lobby; a colored poster hangs outside a first-grade room, bearing the words “He had a dream”; and a photograph of King resides in the middle-school classroom where my third-graders complete their homework in an extended day program. At first, I wondered whether such a proliferation of the same image over and over had any impact on my students, but I now realize how integral King’s legacy has been to them.

Entering City Year straight out of my American Studies major in college, I was hyper-aware of the way King’s words are often quoted without always providing context. But regardless of the way King is remembered, his work has inspired Boston students’ lives in both small and big ways. Last month, listening to a heated discussion between two friends, I heard one of my students shout, “I have a dream!”

"Clearly," I thought to myself, "he understands the persuasive power of those words."

At the beginning of the school year, we played a game in which a student with a sticky-note on his head had to guess the famous person written on it. A stumped student stood in the front of the room until one of his friends exclaimed, “You made the world better!”

The student knew the answer immediately. “Martin Luther King!” he shouted. The class cheered.

The students I serve may still have several years of schooling ahead of them to fully learn about King’s mission, strategies, and impact, but they still understand King’s legacy. They understand that he fought for equality and changed the United States. They understand that he is a hero. They understand that because of King, they live in a country which allows them to become anyone they want to be. One day, my students will learn everything King did for them and how he did it; but today, they are the products of his dream of equality.


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