In 1994, to further honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Bill Clinton declared the holiday honoring his life a national day of service. This legislation challenges Americans to transform Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into a call for citizen action – one that has been taken to heart by the volunteers at City Year.
Part of AmeriCorps, City Year is an education nonprofit that has partnered with CPS for more than a decade to bolster attendance and keep students on track to graduate. They are active in 20 schools, providing such services as one-on-one tutoring, mentoring, social emotional learning and involvement in after-school programs.
In 2014, City Year's annual Day of Service Project - always held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – mobilized nearly 1,000 volunteers to beautify Kilmer Elementary and Sullivan High School, located across the street from each other in Rogers Park. The team included students and staff from both schools, as well as neighbors, community leaders, and volunteers from such corporate sponsors as Hyatt and the White Sox.
"Our goal was to create a reinvigorated learning space that will make students excited to be at school," said Johnny Barr of City Year. "If we can show kids that their community cares about their education, we hope it will inspire them to invest in it as well."
Monday's projects included the painting of murals and inspirational quotes that embody both the ideals of Dr. King – diversity, equality, and the beloved community – and the core values that have been established by Kilmer and Sullivan.
"Family, integrity, service and tenacity," said Sullivan principal Chad Adams. "These are the values that define us as a school community."
Since coming to Sullivan in 2013, Adams has been working to rebrand his school, plastering the walls with a new logo and encouraging students and staff to take pride in their diverse identity.
"Our students represent countries from around the globe and speak 40 different languages," he said. "We are a living representation of Dr. King's 'I Have a Dream' speech."
The inspirational quotes now painted above student lockers proclaim this diversity, as does the enormous mural on the wall of the school's Peace Room, which spells out the word "peace" in over 50 languages. In addition to these artistic projects, City Year volunteers spent time cleaning and beautifying classrooms, organizing storage spaces, and creating benches and planter boxes to be used throughout both schools.
"We were so fortunate to be the recipients of City Year's 2014 Day of Service," said Jean Papagianis, principal at Kilmer Elementary. "The positive energy has been palpable, and the outcome is amazing new views of the interiors of our schools."
When they returned to school on Tuesday, students at Kilmer and Sullivan were greeted by a fresh new look – one that volunteers hope will bring a touch of excitement to their learning.
"We hope that the murals and quotes will serve as a source of school pride," said Barr, "and that students will see the project itself – people from different places and backgrounds coming together for a common cause – as an example of Dr. King's legacy."