Remembering MLK with acts of service
In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, which transformed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into a day dedicated to volunteer service in honor of King’s legacy. Since then, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has coordinated the annual Day of Service, funding independent service projects as well as mobilizing its AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers to serve in various ways in their local communities. Organizers call it a day “on” rather than a day off, a holiday for the good of the people.
The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service. And it’s not just for AmeriCorps members. Around Chesapeake Country, we caught up with some organizations and individuals who used the holiday weekend to honor King’s mission by volunteering or participating in community projects that brought them together in the spirit of service.
MLK Days in Calvert County
By Molly Weeks Crumbley
In Calvert County, two organizations have taken a unique approach to their MLK Days of Service, turning to the arts to strengthen the ties of the community and celebrate King’s life.
Only Love: MLK Days at Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center
At Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center in Solomons, community members who attended the free MLK Days program were offered the opportunity to be part of an uplifting art project. MLK Days has been a tradition at the garden since 2009, bringing people together to learn and create together in the spirit of King. Jaimie Jeffrey, curator of public programs, explains, “Our MLK Days celebrate the diversity and creativity of Maryland and D.C. artists. From sculpting a colorful community in an ever-growing diorama with Pinkie Strother, to making wacky wire self-portraits with GM Webb, to crafting heartfelt flags with Esther Iverem, to learning about mudcloth patterns and designing our own with Caryl Henry Alexander—our visiting artists always introduce fun art techniques with meaningful prompts to help us celebrate the meaning of the holiday.”
This year’s guest artist, Sarah Matthews, is a printmaker and book artist whose work has been exhibited all over the U.S. and who currently has an exhibit of work on display at Annmarie. Her collection, entitled Overcomer, shows different prints and books illustrating the artist’s emotional journey through the course of pandemic, racial injustice, and social isolation. Her prints serve as the inspiration for this year’s MLK Days project, Only Love: A Poster Printing Party. Over the course of three days, attendees arrived for their pre-registered time slot and equipped with the tools and techniques needed to create their own posters.
Using foam and cardboard, participants created original stamps and layer prints to showcase different textures and colors. Over 200 works of art celebrating love, diversity, and acceptance were created using these techniques. Each attendee was able to create two versions of their poster: one to leave at Annmarie as part of the exhibit and one to take with them to display in the community. Above the display of posters, visitors to Annmarie will also see the inspiration for the poster project, a quote from King printed on the wall in bold black letters: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Matthews’s Overcomer exhibit will be displayed in the Main Floor Gallery in the Annmarie Murray Art Building until Feb. 27. For more information about the artist: iamsarahmatthews.com. For more on Annmarie Garden: annmariegarden.org.
My Calvert Life: Telling Our Stories
In another corner of the county, Calvert Peace Project is hoping to bring the community together through the power of digital storytelling.
Calvert Peace Project, a partnership between Broadview Church and Peace Through Action USA, is a new community organization with “the mission to increase understanding, collaboration, and community among youth and adults by providing civic and social engagement activities with a focus on peace.” The group has many projects in the works for 2022, including book and film groups, a speaker series, and a Peaceful Leaders Youth Program.
They are turning to the digital world for their MLK Day of Service project. Partnering with the national oral history organization StoryCorps, Calvert Peace Project invites Calvert County residents from all walks of life to share their stories.
“’My Calvert Life: Telling Our Stories’ will bring Calvert County community members together across generations, races, and life experiences through virtual storytelling to learn more about each other’s experiences living in Calvert County,” says Jessica Harding, a Peace Agent with the group. “This service project holds a promise of increasing understanding of the diversity of life experiences among Calvert community members while contributing to the national archive of Americans’ stories and uplifting Martin Luther King’s legacy of service and his dream of building beloved community.”
To participate, anyone with ties to Calvert County can register as interviewers or interviewees. All ages are able to participate, though minors will need to have the consent of their legal caretaker. Their stories will be recorded using StoryCorps Connect, a video conference technology that records audio and captures still photographs of the interview. Final products are then uploaded into the StoryCorps archive, where participants will get final approval for publication and sharing.
Harding says the origins of the project began with the group’s founder. “Peace Through Action’s CEO, Bob Reeg, came up with the idea for the MLK Day of Service project. He is a fan of NPR and StoryCorps and thought it was a great way to bring people together to learn more about each other’s life experiences and contribute to the national oral storytelling movement. Due to COVID-19 and the winter season, hosting a virtual option for service was also an appealing alternative.”
Though many of the interviews will take place around MLK Day, the project has no set end date in mind in order to attract as many perspectives as possible.
“Generally, we are focusing these interviews on people’s experiences living in Calvert County, Maryland,” says Harding. “The joys of living as well as hardships. Historical perspectives from our elders. Aspirations from our youth. A rich tapestry to unfold.”
AACo Libraries and Schools Mark MLK Day
By Jillian Amodio
The recent celebration of Martin Luther King Day is a great kickoff point for various events and opportunities to spark change, offer support, and influence activism in relation to social justice initiatives in the Chesapeake Bay area.
While the Anne Arundel County Public Library kicked off its celebration with a birthday party on Jan. 15, there is still much to look forward to. The Eastport branch hosted a family-friendly birthday party in King’s memory with the help of performer Culture Queen. Guests enjoyed an interactive civil rights-themed show and some crafting.
Christine Feldmann, AACPL’s Director of Marketing and Communications, says that this is the perfect way for the branch to gear up for their Black History Month offerings beginning in February. “The library is really for everyone in our community and we are proud to offer programs that reflect our community members,” she says. “We encourage families to participate in these events, they may learn a few things and meet a few people, and they can enjoy celebrating their culture and heritage. These programs help us understand one another better and celebrate the accomplishments of Blacks in our community.”
Upcoming events of note offered through AACPL include demonstrations on using the arts as activism, an interactive Black History presentation with Culture Queen, poetry readings, various concerts, film showings, and musical celebrations.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools continues its “Let’s Talk Justice Initiatives” which was founded last year as a forum for students to discuss racism and social justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. This initiative has quickly grown into an outlet for students to pursue activism in response to various social issues and injustices. The next scheduled meeting is Jan. 20 (6-8pm) and will be held via Google Meet. The topic is district wide gender and sexuality alliance. More info: aacps.org/letstalkjustice.