By Kat Sawyer
As The Watershed Project prepares for the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at the Richmond Greenway on January 16th, I’ve been reflecting on the legacy of Martin Luther King and how important it is that his birthday has become a national holiday marked by community service. It is a fitting tribute to his life, and a powerful way to remember his work and the ultimate sacrifice he made in service to the civil rights movement. Action is love personified. What we do matters.
A movement is made of many people working together. Within that work, one person can rise up and serve as a catalyst and leader, but they are always a part of something bigger. While many people worked to challenge Jim Crow laws in the 1960s, MLK’s impact was transformative. He was a brilliant thinker, writer and leader. What set him apart was the conscious strategy to use non-violence in the struggle for civil rights. This should never be confused with passivity. It required incredible discipline, and I still marvel at the strength and fortitude it took to meet hate with love. Imagine the courage it takes to stand up to people who want to hurt you with your hands at your sides. The resistance to the natural inclination to fight back physically when under attack is extremely brave, and stood in stark contrast to the ugly aggression that segregationists showed the world. The Civil Rights Movement, with MLK at the helm, laid bare the racism in this country and shamed white Americans into supporting civil rights enough to pass anti-discrimination laws that marked a turning point in the evolution of the nation. As racism and discrimination continues to take old and new forms today, it’s all the more important to celebrate the fact that MLK inspired the world with his wisdom and dignity, and this country was forever changed because of Martin Luther King Jr’s life.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Here in Richmond, California, a woman just a few years older than MLK named Lillie Mae Jones had a vision for her city and followed it through with action. In 1968, she began advocating to turn the former Santa Fe railroad tracks that divided the Iron Triangle neighborhood into a respite from the city environment with a pedestrian and bicycle path filled with community gardens, benches and other amenities. She organized and planned for years, and her work inspired others to join and support her vision. Decades later, the abandoned railway line was transformed into the Richmond Greenway and adopted as a public park by the City of Richmond in 2011. It continues to be a vibrant public space with many community organizations taking stewardship of areas in a collective effort. The Watershed Project created a timeline of her and her work, which can be found here.
This will be the 16th MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway, and The Watershed Project has participated with FORG (Friends of the Richmond Greenway) since the very beginning. It is an honor to work together with our partners and community volunteers to take positive action and celebrate the life of this great American, Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. “