Instead of binge-watching TV or cleaning house, dozens of local residents who had Monday off work and school participated in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
They collected shoes, crayons and cereal. They made cards for kids being bullied. They donated gifts, snacks and socks. They delivered sweet treats to civil servants.
Begun by a small group of Flossmoor residents in 2015, the local incarnation of this national program has bloomed over its six years into a community rallying cry to give back, to make it “a day on, not a day off.”
Nicole Brookens is Flossmoor’s program and events coordinator, and she organized this year’s 20 MLK Day of Service programs throughout the South Suburbs.
Working at Flossmoor Village Hall on Monday, Brookens said programs reached past Homewood and Flossmoor, into Orland Park, Chicago Heights and into the Cook County Forest Preserve District, where cleanup efforts took place.
“I think it’s important to point out that it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s 91st birthday today and his dream is still in motion,” Brookens said. “When we serve together, we have everything.”
Service projects bring people together regardless of their background, age or ethnicity, she said, adding that Flossmoor Mayor Paul Braun joined in sorting donated socks with young people from PLAN4SUCCESS, a mentoring program that Brookens founded.
PLAN4SUCCESS volunteers also collected and delivered baked goods to police and fire stations in several municipalities including Homewood, Flossmoor, Chicago Heights, Matteson, Olympia Fields, Orland Park and Tinley Park.
Members of another local mentorship group for African-American young people came out to help as well. The South Suburban Chicago Chapter of Jack and Jill of America organized a service project for the day, collecting food and toiletry items.
Boxes of cereal, canned goods and other non-perishable items would be split between The Pantry of Rich Township and Alicia’s House Food Pantry in South Chicago Heights. Deodorant, toothbrushes and soap would benefit South Suburban PADS homeless shelter program.
Jack and Jill was represented for the second year at Flossmoor’s MLK Day of Service, according to member Mariba Woods, who chaired the activity committee.
“We’ve always done a similar day of service, but by partnering with the village, we can get even more of the community involved for a more global reach,” said Woods, of Hazel Crest. “It brings about equity, when we help each other. Service is about giving people what they need to be successful.”
Allison Wright, Jack and Jill’s local chapter program director, added her vision of service.
“Service means donating your time to someone else to make their life better,” Wright said.
Woods and Wright mobilized a group of young volunteers to greet people walking in with food donations, unpack boxes and organize items. As they did, Jack and Jill chapter president Daleta Mitchell talked about how important it is for young people to see positive role models.
“It’s a struggle getting your kids out to anything,” said Mitchell, an Orland Park resident. “At the end of the day, after they learn about the projects, meet the people who are involved, they get a different perspective.”
Young people see the direct impact of their work and hopefully go home with a wider perspective, she said.
“They think, ‘This really meant something; it wasn’t just Mom dragging me to an event. And there’s something I can do at my age that makes a difference,’” Mitchell said.
“To me, service means not forgetting those who don’t have as much as you do, and in the blink of an eye you could be in that position, and you would want someone to help you.”
A few young volunteers stopped to talk, among them Colin Lewis, of Flossmoor; Ernest Woods, of Hazel Crest; Xavier White, of Flossmoor; Henry Ormsby, of Flossmoor; and Robert Bixenman, of Flossmoor. The young teenagers came ready to work so they could earn service hours toward requirements for the sacrament of Confirmation at Infant Jesus of Prague Catholic Church in Flossmoor.
Colin, 13, said King was “a great guy” who peacefully protested and made people wake up to injustices and helped desegregate communities. Reflecting on his own passion of playing baseball, Colin added sports would look much different without King and others who fought for integration.
“Look at Jackie Robinson,” Colin said. “They didn’t even want him there, but he played anyway.”
Ernest, 14, said he’s inspired by King’s work that brought light to civil rights issues, and that he brought change to the government’s doorstep and shined a light on inequalities white people couldn’t see. That’s part of what drives him to give back through Jack and Jill of America.
“We have a lot more opportunities than people used to,” Ernest said. “Back then, we couldn’t even be here; we wouldn’t be allowed. We couldn’t buy good shoes or clothing. It makes me thankful.”