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Students and residents embrace a community-building message
during the MLK Day of Service at the request of a Smith Hill
neighbor. (Photo by Saadia Ahmad '14; video by PCTV)

PC, Smith Hill residents clean up community for MLK Day of Service

Providence College students partnered with residents of the Smith Hill neighborhood to commemorate the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the second annual MLK Day of Service. 

The volunteer outreach, sponsored by the Student Multicultural Activities Office, Campus Ministry and the Providence College/Smith Hill Annex, was part of United We Serve, the president’s nationwide call to service initiative.

“It’s been a nice balance between education and reflection and service,” said Sarah Attwood, campus minister.

The King holiday is the only federal celebration that is a day of service — “a day on, not a day off.” However, “you need more than a day for it to make an impact,” Attwood said.

Students began preparing themselves for service the day before the King holiday by reading the civil rights leader’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and reflecting on its meaning. In addition, they watched and discussed The Butler, a film set in the civil rights era.

They also heard a presentation by Sal Monteiro. Monteiro, assistant director of training at the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Providence, spent time in prison as an accomplice to murder. There, he studied and practiced nonviolent conflict resolution and now teaches young inmates about nonviolence.

He prompted the students to share the answers to "vulnerable" questions: when do they feel alone and scared? Who do they wish to be forgiven by? Through the exercise, students practiced listening to each other’s stories and to have compassion for each other, Attwood said.

The experience really moved some of the participants. “After the end of the session, I wanted to pour my heart out,” said August Siu ’15 (Shelton, Conn.).

Cleaning up

On Monday, the students worked with volunteers from the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC) to clear brush and trash from a lot off Douglas Avenue. They also raked leaves from the grounds of a former school building. They capped off the event with an Open Mic night and potluck dinner with community members at the Annex on Douglas Avenue.

Griffin Rouse ’08, project manager for the Smith Hill CDC, said the event gave students and residents an opportunity for “much more organic conversation to occur.” 

“If we’re able to get the two groups together more often, they’re going to realize the things that unite them are substantially more meaningful than the things that make them different,” Rouse said.

The day of service allowed students a chance “to actually get out in the community and listen to the Smith Hill CDC to find out what they wanted to be done,” said Kaitlin Fitzpatrick ’14 (Nanuet N.Y.), a political science major and public and community service studies minor and one of the student coordinators of the day of service.

“We’ve built some great bonds with the community,” said Nick Ackerman ’15 (Hillsborough, N.J.), a business economics major and student coordinator for the day of service. “We’re just trying to help spread the dream of Dr. King, showing compassion.”

Community members who participated in the day of service said they appreciated the assistance from their PC neighbors.

“Each of us, as residents of this community, has a vested interest in making sure it’s kept up right,” said Luis Otero. Afterward, he printed the words "IT TAKES A VILLAGE" and asked the service participants to pose for a photo with the letters.

“We’ve all been saying, even though we’ve been cold and tired, Martin Luther King wouldn’t complain. He wouldn’t take a 10-minute break.” Fitzpatrick said.  “Definitely keeping that spirit in mind has been very helpful as we do our service.”

—  Liz F. Kay

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