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When professional development and service go hand-in-hand

KIa Smith Chicago AmeriCorps Member

With this year’s MLK Day of Service behind us now, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the day means to me. I’ll be honest here. Prior to joining City Year, MLK Day was nothing more than a day off from work or school, retweeting and double-tapping different posts of MLK quotes that my social media friends would share. Sure, I knew and appreciated Dr. King and how innovative he was as an African-American leader, but as far as actually doing something on this day? It never happened.

Then, along came City Year. Not only did the entire City Year Chicago corps have a service project in the extremely diverse Rogers Park area, but we also had about 1,000 additional volunteers and visits from many government officials, who joined us in our service for the day.

The role I played on this day was truly unique and remarkable. I was selected by the External Affairs Director to run City Year Chicago’s official social media accounts and tell the story of what it means to serve on this special day through my eyes. Knowing that I was trusted to take on this role was empowering and makes me feel like my goal of becoming a communications director one day is closer than I imagined.

I love social media and I love to see how people interact with it. I consider myself a storyteller, and I love how stories can be told through social media’s lens. With each update and advancement made to different social media platforms, the better the art of storytelling gets. I loved being able to combine my service and my passion for social media to share the history and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and its meaning with the world.

My day began earlier than usual, 4:30 A.M. to be exact. The first event of the day was at 7:00 A.M., but fresh snow had fallen and Chicago winters can be brutal, especially in the mornings. Nonetheless, I pressed forward.

Pressing forward is an important quality. Yes, things are hard and there are many days where you may not feel like doing anything, but there’s work to do. We must press forward. Despite a few delays on the train, I made it on time and was immediately put to work. Aside from social media, my other job for the day was to be a part of the volunteer experience team which goes around the building and hypes up the volunteers through music and dancing. That part of the day alone made our service day the best volunteer service I ever had the pleasure of being a part of.

The volunteers’ efforts were contagious, and I really fed off of their energy throughout the day. People from all walks of life—all ages, sizes, and colors—came and volunteered. Working in harmony, making new friends and celebrating our differences on this day allowed us to come together and make Gale Community Academy even more beautiful than it already is.

So, my answer to the burning question, “What does MLK Day of Service mean to me” is simple. Today, we acknowledge a man who despite many obstacles, pressed forward. Jailed, beaten, targeted by the FBI and his own personal demons—nothing held him back. He grew, he evolved, he adjusted his ideologies. He loved. He truly loved people even when they hated him. He served. He wanted equality on all levels. Gone too soon, but the fruits of his labor are not forgotten.

Now, MLK Day is a day for me to serve, to love, to reflect and to press forward. It is also a day to ponder on life’s most persistent and urgent question: “What are we doing for others”

Kia Smith is a City Year Chicago AmeriCorps member serving on the Chalmers School of Excellence team in the beautiful North Lawndale Community.

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