Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MLK Day of Service in Bayview

Residents from the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco joined with volunteers from outside the neighborhood yesterday to celebrate Martin Luther King Day with community service, as then President-Elect Obama had suggested.

Groups from Stanford University, University of San Francisco and AmeriCorps, along with individuals from other San Francisco neighborhoods who wanted a service experience to mark their MLK holiday, worked in community gardens around the heart of Bayview.

The Quesada Gardens Initiative organized the event on behalf of the many informal groups focused on projects such as the Bridgeview Garden, the Latona Community Garden, and a new garden emerging on Palou Avenue.

About a hundred volunteers weeded, picked up trash, built retaining walls, laid piping for an irrigation system, painted garden furniture, and spread a mountain of mulch. Afterward, they gathered to share food and lemonade, dedicate a recently finished mural and celebrate the muralists, and share thoughts about the meaning of the day.

The day’s activities were promoted on KCBS, in the SF Chronicle and SF Examiner, and were covered by KGO local ABC news.

“I’ve had a lot of great moments in my private life, but this is the greatest in my public one,” Revere neighbor Nan Foster said as she worked in the Quesada Garden yesterday. She was talking about the inauguration, something that was on everyone’s minds and lips throughout the MLK Day holiday.

The MLK Day and the inauguration seemed like one holiday, and the work on the local level was never more connected to events outside the neighborhood.

Even with our hands in the dirt, we could sense the camera of perspective panning out to a long shot of the earth from space. MLK Day itself seemed to expand around us as people who are vastly different from one another worked together, drank lemonade together, and cheered together. Still a celebration of the African American experience and the movement toward civil rights, the MLK holiday seemed all the more inclusive as a day of purpose for all cultures and all struggle.

Contributing to the day of service were as many people who appeared nearer Obama’s mother’s ethnicity and culture as from that of the new President’s father. Individually, we brought to the day perspective dictated by our unique backgrounds. Together, we were immersed in a collective experience that is rare even in a place where unity is cultivated along with community gardens and public art.

Pictured are Drew Howard and Chris Waddling working on the newly emerging Palou Garden just west of Phelps. Photo by James Ross

See lots of great pictures of community-building work, all by Rhonda Winter, including pictures from yesterday.

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