An army of volunteers fans out across the region every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to paint a stranger’s apartment, weed a neighbor’s garden, stock a family’s pantry.
“Make it a day on, not a day off,” urged the Rev. Melinda Veatch, referring to a popular phrase coined to describe the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
Monday is a holiday honoring the civil-rights leader. Parades and celebrations are planned in communities nationwide. But there is also work to do. King’s teachings have inspired scores of volunteers who heed his call: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Volunteers reflect on the slain civil-rights leader’s question, pray and roll up their sleeves during the Fifth Annual Tarrant Churches Together MLK Day of Service.
“There’s always a way you can serve,” said Veatch, executive director of Tarrant Churches Together. “In serving, you also receive such a huge blessing.”
‘I have a dream’
Even as national headlines reflect the same kinds of racial tensions and discrimination that King fought, the Day of Service brings people together, said the Rev. Jorene Swift of Broadway Baptist Church.
She quoted a line from King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech: “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
Volunteers bring that vision to life, Swift said.
Workers were to gather early in the morning for community worship. This year, the Rev. Karl Travis, pastor at First Presbyterian Church, was slated to preach at Baker Chapel A.M.E. Church, 1050 Humbolt St. in Fort Worth.
Tarrant Churches Together, an interchurch organization that works to build unity, bridge divisions and address needs, organized the local Day of Service, which links hundreds of volunteers to service sites. The effort allows people to help others while building a deeper sense of community among people of different faiths, social backgrounds and religions.
“It honors the spirit of what Martin Luther King Jr. was all about,” Swift said. “It’s a holiday, but it is people saying, ‘Instead of taking a day off, I am going to give back to my community.’”
‘Anybody can serve’
Tarrant Churches Together (formerly the Tarrant Area Community of Churches) started the local Day of Service event five years ago, with about 150 volunteers. This year, about 500 will participate.
“The amazing thing is how many people want to serve,” said Steva Livingston, a coordinator.
Volunteers said people are drawn by King’s words: “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
After worship, volunteers go to sites across the Fort Worth area to work on projects through area social service groups. For example, at Union Gospel Mission, volunteers sort, organize and hang donated clothes. At the I.M. Terrell Community Garden, volunteers weed, prepare beds and paint a sign.
One of the largest efforts is the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo Sack-A-Palooza, which involves making 6,000 nonperishable lunches for the 300 homeless day laborers who work the Stock Show. The meals are distributed throughout the run of the Stock Show, Veatch said.
The volunteer work ends with a no-cost lunch at Broadway Baptist Church, 305 W. Broadway Ave. This year, Mayor Betsy Price is the scheduled guest speaker.
Alyssa Dequeant, 20, a student at the University of Texas at Arlington, said serving on MLK Day builds on her sense of community.
“I think he would be proud that people are using his holiday to serve others,” said Dequeant, who participated with members of her campus group, Sigma Alpha Lambda.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675
Monday’s MLK Day events
▪ Fifth Annual Tarrant Churches Together MLK Day of Service is 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and begins at Baker Chapel A.M.E. Church, 1050 Humbolt St. in Fort Worth.
Doors open at 7:30 a.m. for pre-registration sign-in and walk-in registration at Baker Chapel. Community worship begins at 9 a.m. The day ends with a no-cost lunch for volunteers at 12:45 p.m. at Broadway Baptist Church, 305 W. Broadway Ave. in Fort Worth. Mayor Betsy Price will be guest speaker. Free. fortworthtexas.gov
▪ The Fort Worth Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade starts at 11 a.m. at Ninth and Commerce streets downtown. The MLK Rally, which features step groups, dancers, high school bands and skit and drill teams from the area in Sundance Square, will follow the parade. More information on the parade, organized by the Greater Fort Worth Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Committee, is at www.gfwmlkjrhc.info.
▪ The MLK Day of Service at UT Arlington begins at 9 a.m. Volunteers will meet at the campus’s Maverick Activity Center, 500 Nedderman Drive, for assignments. The first 150 volunteers will get a free Arlington MLK commemorative T-shirt. Information: http://www.arlington-tx.gov/
▪ Youth Musical Extravaganza starts at 6:30 p.m. and features a 500-voice elementary choir, soloists and step teams. Metro Center, Fielder Road Baptist Church, 1323 W. Pioneer Parkway in Arlington. Free.