Every year the AmeriCorps members and their fearless leaders attend the MLK Day Luncheon with hundreds of others. There is always a phenomenal speaker who inspires and encourages those in attendance. Afterwards there is a freedom march that many participate in, although, AmeriCorps does not partake. Instead, we do a service project, usually at the Midwest Food Bank, which is where we went this year. Three years ago, there were some issues with who was going to come and speak, last minute they brought in Michael Eric Dyson. Dyson is a Professor of Sociology at Georgetown and is referred to as “a Princeton PhD and a child of the streets who takes pains never to separate the two” by Michael A Fletcher. The year following him was none other than Condoleezza Rice who spoke of what her father and grandfather had taught her about how if you put your mind to something you could do it. Just like Dr. King. This year, they brought back Michael Eric Dyson.
He ignored controversy and spoke about what Dr. King would think of everything that is going on with the United States. He spoke of unemployment, the treatment of the poor, the LGBT community, the young, and women. He spoke of politics and everything that the conservatives and liberals disagree on and how what matters is taking care of people. He spoke on the war on drugs, Trayvon Martin, and racial profiling. He touched on how we are quick to judge people for numerous reasons. He spoke of how those who sag their pants may be hiding a body that is ravaged by the community that they live in. He spoke on the music of this generation and how the language offends people but that the situations and the lives these artists sing/rap about don’t bother them. He quoted Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Trey Songz, Marvin Gay, Barry White and countless others, using lyrics to connect the audience. It involved everyone and helped them understand the points he was making. He spoke of how women make less than what men do when doing the same jobs, about how we “love our mamas and hate our baby mama’s”, and how we should respect and love everyone no matter their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or anything else that someone uses to define themselves.
He even went as far as to call people out. The mayor, the city council, and the pastors, who at one point were not perfect and how they therefore can not judge people. He told Peoria that we are the belt buckle of the Bible belt and that Jesus would be afraid to come here because he does not meet our standards of what Christianity is. It was a much needed reality check for many of those in attendance. He was very clear that no one is perfect and that we have a very long way to go but he did so in an inspirational way that mixed comedy and music with what he was speaking about.
After the luncheon, ten people went to the Midwest Food Bank. After a brief video and tour, explaining everything that went on there, we sorted canned goods, labeling and re-boxing them. We formed an assembly line and got to work, doing 2,036 cans of spaghetti sauce in under an hour. All in all, it was a very successful and productive day while also bringing all of our AmeriCorps members together on such an important day. Remember, MLK Day is not a day off, it’s a day on.