Habitat for Humanity International invited Michael D. Smith to conversation about building more equitable and just communities
During Black History Month, we honor the heritage of Black leaders and volunteers who not only commit themselves to service but also inspire others to do the same. When zip codes determine access to opportunities in far too many communities, we must consider what a more just and equitable future might hold. AmeriCorps programs draw on the dream of creating the Beloved Community—Dr. Martin Luther Kings, Jr.’s, global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth—to improve lives, foster civic engagement and strengthen communities across the country. Our programs aim to build bridges and repair national divides through service.
Michael D. Smith, AmeriCorps CEO, recently joined Jacqueline Innocent, Habitat for Humanity International senior vice president of integrated programs, and Kirby Page, Habitat for Humanity volunteer, on their ongoing series +You to discuss Dr. King’s Beloved Community and the intersection of volunteerism and systematic inequality in the U.S. today.
Here are a few of highlights from the conversation:
1. Solving Inequity Together
Jacqueline Innocent: Why is it important for us, even today, to stay committed to that spirit of building the Beloved Community so many years later?
Michael Smith: I reflect on lots of Dr. King’s words—the idea that everybody can be great because everybody can serve, or “life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing to serve others?’” And so, I think when we look at where we are today as a society, I talked about the polarization, I talked about the inequities that we’re experiencing. The idea that there are still far too many people in our communities where your zip code is a determining factor or a limiting factor in how far you can go—that’s unacceptable. Because Dr. King’s words also taught us that we are inextricably linked in America’s success. Our community’s success or country’s success [is] inextricably bound to how the least among us is able to lead and achieve their dreams.
2. Serving and Learning
Jacqueline Innocent: I’d be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to talk about one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing, and that’s [COVID-19]. So, I was hoping you could talk for a bit about the role that you see for AmeriCorps service and volunteering around addressing [COVID-19] and the recovery from it.
Michael Smith: All over the country, we are seeing AmeriCorps members, in myriad different ways, addressing the challenges that we’re facing. I was talking recently with some AmeriCorps NCCC, our National Civilian Community Corps members, that were deployed at hospitals across the state of Kentucky. When we were seeing the Omicron surges, medical professionals needed help ... so we were able to send AmeriCorps team members working alongside these hospitals to do some of the jobs that freed up more time for the medical professionals. And I met at least a couple of those AmeriCorps members who actually wanted to go into medical careers, and so we’re serving and learning at the same time.
3. The Transformative Power of Service
Jacqueline Innocent: [Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic], we needed to find ways for our AmeriCorps members to continue to serve and address adequate and affordable housing. [AmeriCorps] really worked with us and provided great support in that.
Michael Smith: Thank you, Jacqueline. And what I think is powerful there, too, that I think is something that we’ve seen throughout American history, is when your home is being challenged, when you are suffering, there is something that is transformative about stepping out to help others. Something that lifts you up. Something that gives you hope.
Watch the full “+You: Building the Beloved Community through inclusive volunteering” interview below or on youtube.
AmeriCorps continues to help create the Beloved Community through service and breaks down barriers to diversity by working alongside organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Black History Month illustrates the transformative power of national service and volunteerism as both a personal and communal experience to further just causes. The passion and commitment of our members and volunteers drives forward equity today and builds a stronger tomorrow.
We invite you to join us in this journey. Learn more at americorps.gov/serve.