Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Legacy Kept Alive by Harlem Youth

By Jeff Mays on January 16, 2012 7:04am 

Students from the Manhattan Country School march in 2011's Martin Luther King Jr. day event.
Students from the Manhattan Country School march in 2011's Martin Luther King Jr. day event.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Hundreds of Harlem kids will participate in events Monday designed to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Manhattan Country School students are marching through the streets of Harlem highlighting contemporary civil rights issues, and 900 volunteers from City Year New York will complete service projects at local schools and in the Wagner Houses in East Harlem.

Across town, another group of kids will perform poetry and discuss ways they can continue Dr. King's mission.

"Some kids don't understand the legacy," said Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources.

Sekou's group, along with Circle of Brothers and Harlem 4, will host an event called "I am the Dream" from noon until 4 p.m. at the Harriet Tubman Learning Center on West 127th Street, between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

In addition to poetry, spoken word and other performances, community organizations will be on-hand to tell kids how they can volunteer to serve their community.

Young participants will also discuss ways to solve the problems they face.

"This has to be more than a a day off from school or work. People  died, were hosed down and jailed, including Dr. King who dedicated his life to making sure they have equal education, jobs and opportunities," said Sekou.

That's why the eighth graders leading Manhattan Country School's march of 200 to 300 people decided to title their event "Equality in Every Language."

Today's heavily researched speeches focus on everything from voting and immigration rights to education and the 99 percent.

"It's one of the ways we can do one small thing to keep Dr. King's dream alive," school administrator Corris Little said about the annual tradition. "This is about the kids being able to feel confident they can go out into the world and enact change."

At the Youth for Change Conference, part of the Youth Violence Task Force started by East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, the lesson will be about how King's non-violent methods can be used today to make change.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
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"We want middle and high school youth to empower themselves to spread messages of peace and acceptance and look to decrease bullying and violence," said Scott Edwards, zone director for City Year New York.

The kids from the conference will also work with City Year on volunteer projects to beautify the neighborhood. At P.S. 96, P.S. 7 and the Wagner Houses, volunteers will paint school walls, build benches and bookcases for classrooms and paint inspirational murals.

"We try to answer President Obama and President Clinton and try to provide the opportunity for volunteers and community members to make it a day on and not a day off, " said Edwards.

In order to do that, young people need to be educated about King's legacy and then be empowered to act, said Sekou.

"We are using the theme of "I Am the Dream" and kids are excited and asking questions because they want to know," said Sekou.

"They are interested, but we have to push the message of Dr. King and make it popular to live in that legacy."

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