Thousands of volunteers on Monday painted murals, planted gardens and picked up trash along Baton Rouge's Gus Young corridor in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day while political leaders encouraged them to keep the spirit going at all times.
This is the third year volunteers have turned out en masse to brighten up blighted parts of the Capital City, and this year's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration extended into a festival of service with music, food and vendors. Many volunteers were accompanied by groups from their schools, workplaces or community organizations, while others came on their own to celebrate King's message of equality and giving back to your community.
"To me, it looks like freedom," said Yolonda Anderson as she dabbed yellow paint onto a mural of birds flying together on the side of a Gus Young Park building.
As she drove her three children to the park Monday, Anderson said she tried to tell them about the importance of doing community service on Martin Luther King Day.
Some volunteers said they hoped their service would help to heal the city, especially after the tumultuous summer of 2016 with the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and three local law enforcement officers, Matthew Gerald, Montrell Jackson and Brad Garafola. The shootings brought to light racial strife in the city.
"I just know Dr. King would be very upset," said LSU senior Jacquelynn Mornay about the division in Baton Rouge.
She and other LSU volunteers wore T-shirts bearing King's likeness.
"He wanted equality," Mornay said.
Amid the service and in between rain showers, performers and political leaders took to a stage in the Gus Young Park throughout the day to celebrate King through music, dance and speeches.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome told the volunteers that King would have been proud of the spirit of volunteering taking place in their communities. She, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle reminded the crowd that it will take a continual effort to reinvest in Baton Rouge communities, and they asked them to keep volunteering and giving back in the next year.
Around 55 vendors set up booths throughout the day, and event organizers estimated about 4,000 volunteers along with 78 organizations partnered to work during the day of service. Casey Phillips, executive director of the Walls Project that coordinated the event, said the project has grown each year. Volunteers on Monday painted 10 murals in the area, he said.
Many other volunteers spent a few hours building an Eden Park community garden on North 48th Street. They planted broccoli, cabbage, parsley, oregano, sage, strawberries, lemon trees and orange trees.
"It's all about putting love in the garden," said Larry Griffin, adding that he would come back to make sure the garden was properly being cared for. "If you put love into anything, it's going to come out great."