August 2023 marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. His words still resonate today as a powerful symbol of his unwavering dedication to a fair and just society, urging all Americans to unite in pursuit of a shared vision of freedom and justice. Six decades later, we continue to honor and be inspired by Dr. King's legacy on MLK Day and every day, like our AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer Florence.
Learning Peace from Dr. King
AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer Florence marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the civil rights movement. Florence was living in Phoenix, Ariz., with her airman husband. Like her experience growing up in Illinois, Florence faced discrimination in Phoenix, which motivated her to join the movement. More than 50 years later, Florence continues to remember and honor Dr. King by serving her community as a Foster Grandparent in Illinois.
“Martin had a powerful voice. He was a short, dark-skinned Black man, but he had a voice that would project anywhere. When I first met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I was ready to fight. But the first thing he said when we got there to march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., was, ‘If you want to fight, go home because we’re not fighting. This is going to be a peaceful demonstration.’ And he talked us into being peaceful, which I carry with me today.
“You just don’t understand how it is when you’re in a situation like that. I was discriminated against, but never to that extent in Alabama. That was a horrible feeling to be discriminated against with dogs turned on you to bite you and police there with guns saying, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ I never had that much power against me. We marched for as long as we could and spent nights out in the area, encountering planes flying overhead and bombs. There were a lot of times we were ready to give up, but Martin kept us going until that fateful day at the motel.
“We weren’t supposed to stay at that motel in Memphis, Tennessee. We went down to help bring the sanitation workers union into effect. We were scheduled to stay at the hotel, but when we got there, they said we couldn’t stay. We had to stay at the motel. They told Martin not to go out on the balcony, but he had to speak to his constituents. He had been out there about five minutes when he was shot. I was in another room at the motel and came running to see if we could do anything, but there wasn’t. Everybody wanted to fight at that moment, but we couldn’t. We needed to go by Martin’s wishes– be peaceful.”
Committing to a Life of Service
Grandma Flo has since dedicated her time to service. She joined ABC AmeriCorps at Sauk Valley Community College, serving in local schools, and then she continued to work in her community. She faced challenges again but found solace through service. They’re talkative in second grade, but they’re great to work with and willing to learn, and that’s the best part about it.
“My husband left me; I was alone, just sitting at home, thinking of something I needed to do. I saw an opportunity to serve again as an older adult at ABC AmeriCorps, so I joined again to serve my community. Joining AmeriCorps Seniors is the best thing I have ever done because working with children gives me the incentive to keep going. The incentive to get up in the morning, come to school, and work with them. It’s very rewarding, and you can learn from children. Children can teach you some things that maybe you’ve forgotten.
“I don’t tell my students or others that I marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., unless someone asks because people don’t remember. But MLK Day of Service means everything. They celebrate the day, and it’s a national holiday, but many people have forgotten Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Day of Service is an opportunity to honor him. More people should know what it was all about and how it affected everybody’s lives. They should never forget that.”
Commit to Building the Beloved Community
Like Grandma Flo, many AmeriCorps members, AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers, and alums have found their purpose through remembering Dr. King. Whether it’s to relive the memory of marching alongside Dr. King or honor his legacy, AmeriCorps has been committed to joining together in service to unify Americans of different backgrounds and experiences to transform unjust systems.
Commit to serve and create ripples that make a world of difference. Join the thousands of Americans from all walks of life who will participate in service projects to honor Dr. King’s legacy. Through service, together, we are one step closer to the Beloved Community of Dr. King’s dream.