ROGERS PARK —More than 700 volunteers — including a flannel shirt-clad Mayor Rahm Emanuel — packed the halls of Sullivan High School Monday to paint murals in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Sullivan, and neighboring Kilmer Elementary School, would normally be empty this holiday, but AmeriCorps' City Year group organized the "Day of Service" to beautify the schools.
"This is exactly what Dr. King meant when he gave his speech," said Sullivan Principal Chad Adams to a standing-room-only auditorium crowd. "This is a day on for Martin Luther King Jr., not a day off."
Adams said the City Year volunteers had been prepping the schools hallways, outlining inspirational quotes and murals over the last week.
"It's pretty overwhelming, but wonderful to see this many people in that auditorium ... that want to give service to Kilmer and Sullivan," Adams said.
Emanuel and other politicians — including Ald. Joe Moore (49th) and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Sullivan High alum — helped out after an opening ceremony.
"Today is a day of service in honor of Dr. King and his dream, which you all remember," Emanuel said to the volunteers. "There's a reason his words ring true today. They're universal, and they're timeless. ... They still speak to the same problem, the same call to action, the same obligation we have."
Adams and Kilmer's new principal, Jean McKeown Papagianis, said they have been working to change the poor perception of their challenged neighborhood schools.
"These two schools have been through quite a lot these last few years," McKeown Papagianis said, including the ousting of former Kilmer principal Lawrence White.
Former Sullivan Principal Catherine Egghart left the school early last year.
Sullivan sophomore Unique Benjamin said the new murals would give the school "a different look."
"I feel that it's going to make the school look more positive," she said.
Schakowsky, wearing a Sullivan High sweatshirt, thanked the volunteers.
"I am prouder than ever to be an alum of Sullivan High School," she said. "[Dr. King] wouldn't stop making our country better — and so are you."