National Day of Service 2013

January 22, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Lincolnia Graduation Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” These powerful words have made me reflect about the work that I do and the students that I teach here at the Literacy Council.

Too often in society, individuals and groups are judged based on skin color, language, cultures, and backgrounds. In fact, many would argue that it is simply human nature to judge someone before you even get to know them, or even speak to them. During the Civil Rights Era, in the 1950s and 60s—and certainly prior—negative judgment was heaped upon racial groups; many naively believed that race dictated one’s character, one’s ability, one’s identity. A half-century later, one could argue that we have come a long way, but still have a long way to go.

Thinking about my students, I have no doubt that they may feel similarly judged on a day-to-day basis. Because of their language ability or unique cultural backgrounds, many could arguably see them as lesser in character, in ability, or in identity.

After meeting many of our students and building growing relationships with them, I am adamant in the belief that they should not be seen in a negative lens because of their language or cultural background. On the contrary, I, like King, have a hope that these unique backgrounds will one day be praised for the depth it can add to one’s character, instead of being derided. I hope that my students will live in a world where they can be respected for what they have to offer and not be hindered by their language ability.  Our students are often an untapped resource in our community simply bursting with potential. In the words of King, they deserve to live in a world in which they are judged only on the “content of their character.”

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I had the opportunity to serve during the National Day of Service, a day in which people get out and give back to the community.  I served with my fellow AmeriCorps members at A-SPAN, an Arlington emergency shelter.  We were given the tasks of organizing their donated clothing, cleaning the facilities, and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their clients.  During this time, I had the chance to reflect on both why I teach and on character.  On the former point, I feel that my mission and passion is to help people and make a difference. I am thankful to be living in this great nation and for the opportunity to serve with AmeriCorps and make a positive difference in many lives. On the latter point, I realized that if only people focused on character, and not on judgment, days like the National Day of Service could be far more widespread and impact so many more. If judgments were left at the door, people would be willing to shatter barriers that we spend so much time building up, and join hands with those around them in the service of others.

I appreciate the bravery of Martin Luther King Jr. and the courage of his actions.  I appreciate his drive and determination to break down discriminatory barriers. His resounding words have given a voice to so many, like my students, who may be marginalized and judged. For this simple fact, his actions will always be remembered.

Katie Trizna, AmeriCorps Instructor
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Rd., Falls Church, VA 22042
www.lcnv.org

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