George Washington University Honors King’s Legacy

Hundreds of volunteers join U.S. attorney general in a “day on” for 22nd Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

A volunteer helps paint walls at Douglas Memorial Church in Northeast Washington, D.C. (Photo: Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
A volunteer helps paint walls at Douglas Memorial Church in Northeast Washington, D.C. (Photo: Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
January 19, 2016

By Ruth Steinhardt

Freezing temperatures and a respite from work and classes couldn’t stop students, faculty and staff at the George Washington University from taking a “day on” Monday, when the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and Leadership brought volunteers together across the District of Columbia and the nation to engage with and contribute to their communities.

“This day of service is one of the highlights of the two weeks of events that we have at GW recognizing the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp. “We’re grateful for the opportunity it gives us to connect with all eight wards in the District of Columbia.”

Before sending volunteers off to 14 on- and off-campus projects, keynote speaker Stacey Stewart, president of United Way USA, reminded an audience of about 650 at Lisner Auditorium that Dr. King began his own journey to activism as a college student. She encouraged students to take from Dr. King’s life the importance of education, courage and love.

“Loving your enemy is a powerful strategy for neutralizing an enemy’s darkness,” she said.

Groups were deployed to beautify schools and churches, play with children, create literacy materials and assemble care packages for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, among many other projects.

At Hart Middle School in D.C.’s Ward 8, the smell of paint and sounds of pop music drifted through the halls. Volunteers from GW, including Dr. Knapp, joined Attorney General Loretta Lynch and members of her staff in painting lockers to look like the spines of books. Ms. Lynch went to work with a will, carefully painting a dark blue locker. Around them, other groups of volunteers from organizations like City Year and the Corporation for National and Community Service laughed, hummed along to the radio, and carefully placed stencils to replicate the spines of classic young adult books like “The Giver.”

“For us at the Justice Department, justice is about service,” Ms. Lynch said.

Amy Cohen, executive director of the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, said that while GW always tries to connect with its community, MLK Day of Service has a resonance all its own.

“When we serve on this day in particular, we are increasingly mindful of the racial and economic disparities in society,” she said. “In our partnership with Hart, for example, we’re working in a neighborhood where kids have been disadvantaged and underserved. We have a responsibility to make sure they are equal recipients of the American dream.”

Faith Fugar, a senior in the Elliott School of International Affairs and site leader at Hart, has been involved in service since her freshman year at GW. This year, she said, was special.

“To be able to pull off a project like this,” she said, gesturing at the plastic drop cloths and vibrant locker doors, “with so many people, and even have the attorney general decide to join us—that’s definitely a highlight.”