DONALDSONVILLE — Residents remembered and honored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday with a day of service, hosted by the River Road African American Museum and Gardens.
Volunteers included students from Donaldsonville High School as well as members of the Gonzales AARP chapter and members of the museum’s board of directors.
The volunteers joined millions across America in commemorating the birthday of the slain civil rights leader by working to better their respective communities.
Much of the day’s work took place at the museum’s former Rosenwald School building, located two blocks away at the corner of Williams and Lessard streets.
All involved worked on beautifying the Rosenwald school site, which the museum’s leadership is renovating with hopes that it will serve as the museum’s next home.
Museum co-founder and director Kathe Hambrick-Jackson said this was the museum’s first day of service to commemorate King’s birthday, compared with events of previous years.
“Our funding has taken a big hit recently, so we depend so much on volunteers,” she said. “We felt having a day of service was a good way to involve our youth, while also working to maintain our properties.”
The volunteers’ efforts included mowing grass and raking leaves around the school site, tending to the museum’s Freedom Garden and graveling a walkway to the school from the sidewalk.
Brian Richardson, who teaches American history and African-American studies at Donaldsonville High School, said his classes have participated in the museum’s recognitions of the day for the past decade.
“We’ve worked with the museum since its inception, but ever since the museum moved to this side of the (Mississippi) River, we’ve made sure our kids are actively involved with various events here,” he said. “This is in our backyard, so we try to get as many students here as possible.”
Jackson said the idea of having young people take part in a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day came from a request by President Barack Obama during his first term in office to the nation’s youth.
“It’s very important that we have our young people get involved and give back to the community, rather than sit at home on this holiday,” she said.
Sean Washington, a 17-year-old Donaldsonville High School senior taking part in the event, said he enjoyed the day of volunteering.
“I’m a member of my school’s Air Force JROTC, so I’m used to putting in a day of hard work,” he said. “I’m glad to be out here helping the museum and continuing Dr. King’s mission of bringing everyone together in the community, regardless of race or religion.”
Richardson said having his students take part in the day of service helps to teach the value of giving back to the community, one of King’s strongest messages.
“When I was young, someone taught me the value of giving back,” he said. “With events like this, we’re prepping our future leaders in Donaldsonville, Ascension Parish, Louisiana and the United States.”
Working with the museum also helps the students to learn more about black history, including Donaldsonville’s part in such history, Richardson said.
“A lot of times, students will ask about certain artifacts or buildings or pictures, wanting to know historical meanings,” he said. “While they’re here, they see the history and they learn about those who came before them, while also serving their community.”
After a barbecue lunch at the museum, the day’s events concluded with 7-year-old Kristian Tinsley, of Zachary, reciting numerous poems by famous black leaders. He also presented a portion of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Tinsely’s grandmother, Bobbie Shujaa, of Baton Rouge, said her grandson has been reciting poetry and speeches by famous black leaders since the age of 4, before he could even read.
“He would hear these speeches or poems read once and pick up on them quickly,” she said. “Within a day or two, he’d have entire poems memorized.”
Tinsley’s passionate delivery of the works drew a round of applause from those in attendance.
Shujaa said she feels imparting the history of black leaders onto today’s youth gives them perspective on how far race relations have come and how much more needs to be done to continue improvement.
“It’s all about knowing, being empowered,” she said. “When you have that empowerment and knowledge, no one can take that away from you.”
Jackson said she is looking to make the day of service an annual event to honor King’s legacy.
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