by Alysa Hemcher, City Year New Hampshire Impact Manager for the Gossler Park Elementary School team generously supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Lincoln Financial
As someone who has been a part of City Year for almost three years now, one thing that I know about City Year is that as an organization, we are fiercely committed to our values. That shows up in our day to day service, our decision making, and most recently, our events. There are few days that I've been prouder to work for City Year than during our Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, showing our devotion to Building the Beloved Community. I'd like to elaborate on my (and my team's!) experience on MLK Day last week through City Year's values.
Martin Luther King Jr dreamed of a world where people were treated with dignity and respect no matter their background. City Year aligns with this in believing that all of our students deserve an individualized and effective education. On MLK Day, the vision crafted was for all members of the Manchester community to have a space to come together to learn more about and discuss social justice, equality, community, and the idea that we are all interconnected. As I stood in a crowd of Manchester community members, other City Years, and National Service members from around the state, I realized the power in that sacred space. It also meant a lot to partner with great organizations who are doing great work in Manchester like the YWCA, VolunteerNH!, and the Currier Museum of Art. It showed how powerful it is when people who believe in and work hard for Manchester every day come together and combine their creativity, hard work, and love for the city!
One of my teammates, Max, was overtaken by the sense of ubuntu that he felt last Monday. Ubuntu is a saying derived from a South African proverb, and represents the idea that each of our humanities is tied together. It facilitates compassion, collaboration, and support among communities. Ubuntu is the sense that we are all connected, and that we must all rise above our challenges together. After City Year's event, we had the pleasure of attending another celebration hosted by New Hampshire’s MLK Coalition. As a traditional closing of the event, we held hands with those around us and sang "We Shall Overcome." Max said that this was grounding and pleasant. After our singing, I was able to speak to the man next to me who told me he was becoming more cynical until he moved to NH and saw people who were selfless. Though we spoke for less than two minutes, I felt the sense of ubuntu as I interacted with this kind stranger.
MLK Day was, of course, a “day on” for City Year and other National Service partners, meaning that we performed service instead of taking the day off. Participants created signs for our schools, made blankets for Project Linus, and sorted clothes for Missy's Closet. At the Diversity Fair, we leveraged the passion and talents of our City Year members by offering meaningful activities for all ages. There was a station where you could learn to say hello in several languages, another where you could make a college to represent your identity, one devoted to sharing about your heritage, and many more! Anna, another Gossler Park team member, talked about how this opportunity allowed those who were passionate about social justice to learn more about each other's work. It was exciting to see City Year members who are so talented in the classrooms share their other interests and causes. Their service and planning of these activities showed dedication to celebrating culture, understanding diversity, and deepening each participant's connection to their identity.
Sydney, a proud Gossler Park Gator, was especially impressed by the community speakers at the kick off of our event. We were lucky to host our new Mayor Joyce Craig, Reverend Eric Jackson, and a 5th grade student who shared her take on what it means to do the right thing. These speakers shared a vision of Manchester like one of Dr. King's- one that cares for each other and is welcoming and accepting of our differences.
On MLK Day, there were many moments in which I saw individuals show their integrity. As some of City Year's ideas were challenged, I was impressed by the open minds with which City Year's leaders met those alternative ideas. Instead of being defensive, there was curiosity. Rather than pushing people away, there was reaching out and inclusion. Just like Dr. King, I saw the people I look up to choose love and connection.
I learned a lot from my experience at City Year's Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and also attending the MLK Coalition’s celebration. I left the day feeling inspired, part of something bigger than myself, and ready to help make Dr. King's vision come alive.