By Justin Brown

On Wednesday, August 28th, my fellow Civic Engagement Team members and I were afforded the opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March by serving at the “Let Freedom Ring Ceremony” on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. We greeted and directed the tens of thousands of people who had gathered on the National Mall to experience the ceremony inside starting at 8:30 through the afternoon. For me, serving at this event was not only a fun way to bond with my newly assembled Civic Engagement Team members, but also an important moment in history to witness.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great leader. His powerful speeches and actions he took against the biggest civil rights issue of his time impacted many people in the past as it does today. He inspired many people then and even more today – including myself.

As I am now working in my second year of service with City Year, serving at the March on Washington reminded me that one reason I decided to come back and serve was to develop myself as a leader who inspires others through action. Last year, I learned from the leaders around me – in City Year and in Washington, DC – the characteristics and examples of quality leaders. Because of the inspiration I got from them, I decided to continue serving in the fight for the biggest civil rights issue of my time – the right to a quality education for all children.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is a person that I look up to personally as a leader who inspired others with his genuine and caring heart and his way with words. Many of City Year’s ideals and beliefs are based on the ones Martin Luther King, Jr. held true, and every year City Year honors Dr. King on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a site-wide day of physical, transformative service projects where we engage hundreds of people in our community on our biggest day of inspirational service. Next year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will be in the hands of my Civic Engagement teammates and I.

With the deep-reaching words in speeches from his son, Martin Luther King III, to President Obama about King and the legacy he left behind, I left that day of service with two things to take back with me and the work I do. First, I left more inspired and excited to serve; it helps that I was able to meet Dick Gregory. I also left with the realization that a great leader, someone who I aspire to be in the eyes of myself and others, continues to lead after they are no longer around. One year goes by quickly, so there’s no moment to be wasted in making better happen.


Justin Brown is a second-year senior corps member serving on the CSX Transportation Civic Engagement Team.

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