Inspired by the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, more than 400 Richmond residents volunteered their time and skills at the 5th Annual Martin Luther King Day of Service at the Richmond Greenway.
The event, which had a festival atmosphere, offered musical entertainment, food, and booths with information on everything from habitat gardens to food systems and climate change. A group of local organizations led by the city, Urban Tilth and Friends of Richmond Greenway worked to maintain and beautify the green space by planting trees. The majority of volunteers turned their attention to restoring the creek bed which runs along the greenway with new plants.
Organizers said the event was about having a “day on” as opposed to “a day off” to energize the community and improve the city.
“This is historic occasion and we shouldn’t take it for granted because it wasn’t always this way,” said Marvin Webb, emcee for the event. “This is a day that really represents MLK. We didn’t come to be served, we came to serve.”
Soulful jazz tunes blared from the speakers and could be heard blocks down the road at the corner of Chaslor and Ohio where the event was held. Before arriving at the Richmond Greenway, residents could park their bikes, leave them for repairs with Richmond Spokes volunteers, and head off to enjoy the event.
The event’s only requirement was to participate in one of the 11 projects taking place: dig holes, remove garbage, water berries for Berryland, a stretch of land that is home to dozens of edible berry varieties, serve up food, or be the first to plant a new tree.
In the middle of the crowd was a lively Kids’ Corner, where kids painted on plant pots for the community garden and giggled as they took turns petting a fuzzy bunny rabbit and a goat. Other volunteers ranging in age from 3 to 90 were sporting gloves and shoveling piles of dirt to plant the more than 800 trees that were plunged into the soil by early afternoon.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said the event made her proud to hold her seat in office because it represents her greatest hope for the city of Richmond— community involvement and service.
“Every year this gets better and better. It’s just wonderful,” McLaughlin said of the event. “I think it really brings people together. Unity is our greatest strength and being here shows us we are our greatest inspiration.”
On the surface, planting a tree may seem like a miniscule effort in a city still struggling to get a handle on unemployment, education and crime. But McLaughlin said that Monday’s effort was about more than community gardens. It is about a changing city, she said.
“We are transforming Richmond and I think people are excited to be a part of that,” she said. “There are many MLK’s out here and if we can nourish that within each other, we can do great things.”
Doria Robinson, who organized the event, agreed. Robinson said while the organizers’ goal is to make a healthier and more beautiful community; empowerment is the essence of what they are trying to do.
“This is the opportunity to actually serve in Dr. Kings spirit,” she said. “Not march up to someone’s door and demand they give you your dream but to use your time, your hands, your energy to create the dream.”