University community volunteers in honor of MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service hosts service projects at 25 community sites

24207482160_29eb3b58b5_kAs she rallied volunteers at Brownsville Middle School in Liberty City this weekend, Caryn Lavernia thought it appropriate to send the group off with a quote from the man who inspired the day’s activities.

“When we take on community work, we might sometimes think it’s not important or effective,’’ said Lavernia, FIU’s assistant vice president for the Office of Engagement. “But through service, we honor Dr. King’s legacy. As Dr. King said, ‘All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and it should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.’’’

Lavernia was one of more than 430 students, faculty, staff and alumni who participated in FIU’s MLK Day of Service, hosted at 25 sites around Miami-Dade and Broward counties, including schools, parks and non-profit organizations like the South Florida SPCA and Feeding South Florida.

This is the 25th anniversary of FIU’s MLK Commemorative Celebration. The MLK Day of Service has been held for nearly a decade, organized by the Center for Leadership and Service within the Division of Student Affairs.

Patricia Lopez-Guerrero, interim director of the center, said the event is the university’s way of honoring King.

“Dr. King once said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?’” said Lopez-Guerrero.The Center for Leadership and Service is honored to support this national day of service to bring communities together and create active citizens.”

At Brownsville, volunteers tackled a variety of beautification projects, including weeding, mulching, painting and cleaning up graffiti. The project was a partnership with attorney Marlon Hill and the law firm of Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, which is working to build a law academy at the school.

“Wherever you see weeds, leaves or tree trimmings, we want you to clean it up,” Hill said. “We want to leave this place spic and span.’’


FIU alum Anna-Bo Emmanuel and her daughter Damaris pull weeds at Brownsville Middle School as part of FIU’s MLK Day of Service.

FIU alumna Anna-Bo Emmanuel brought her husband Craig and 7-year-old daughter Damaris to Brownsville. She said the family does at least one community service project together every year.

“Both my husband and I want our children to see service as a core value of our family,’’ said Emmanuel, a prosecutor with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. “We want them to appreciate the advantages they have in life and to look for opportunities where they can share what they have with others.’’

At Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Overtown, Alex Reyes joined members of his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, in painting the school’s halls. Reyes, president of the fraternity, said community service is essential to its culture.

“We take service very seriously,’’ said Reyes, 23, who has participated in the MLK Day of Service for several years. “It’s all about giving back. We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk.”

Donnie Hale, director of FIU’s Education Effect partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, organized the Booker T. and Miami Northwestern Senior High School sites and said he is hopeful that students will continue to work in the schools beyond the day of service.

Donnie Hale, director of The Education Effect, speaks with a student during the MLK Day of Service at Booker T. Washington Senior High School.

Donnie Hale, director of The Education Effect, speaks with a student during the MLK Day of Service at Booker T. Washington Senior High School.

“We don’t want this to be a one-off,” said Hale, who invited several of the students he met to attend the upcoming Black Male Summit and to serve as mentors for students at Booker T. and Miami Northwestern. “We want to take a deeper dive and create new connections for the future.’’

Ryan Keesee, coordinator with the Center for Leadership and Service who helped organize the day’s events, said he was inspired to hear many students say they do want to continue volunteering beyond MLK Day.

“It really touched me to see so many people from the FIU and South Florida community come together to make a difference,’’ Keesee said. “I think the event provided a glimpse of what we as a community are capable of when we work together.”