Thousands volunteer for MLK Day of Service
Thousands of volunteers converged on Girard College in Philadelphia on Monday for the 19th annual Martin Luther King Day of Service.
Todd Bernstein, the chief organizer of the event to celebrate the legacy of the civil rights leader, said about 125,000 volunteers across the region would take part in 1,700 community service projects, the largest such effort nationwide.
This year's event coincides with the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark civil rights case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students.
At Girard College, volunteers packed more than 300 shopping bags and boxes of supplies for students and teachers in Philadelphia schools. The campaign to collect pencils, rulers, notebooks, calculators and computers started over the summer and was supported by individuals, corporations and agencies alike.
Bernstein said the signature project recognized the crisis in schools funding in Philadelphia. "We the people must find common sense solutions to the problem," he said, imploring those in attendance to make community service a lifetime commitment.
Dr. King was also a champion of economic justice, Bernstein told the crowd, and fittingly the event included a job fair for 500 job seekers to meet with prospective employees.
In his fiery opening remarks to the event, Mayor Michael Nutter seized on the schools crisis.
The politicians in Harrisburg don't know about the Philadelphia School District's financial deficit, Nutter said.
"Apparently we have not told them enough about what is going on down here..." he thundered, "...so we have a lot of work to do."
Among those who helped pack up supplies were radio personality Michael Smerconish, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite and former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, a friend and unofficial adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. who, with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, initiated and authored the act establishing Martin Luther King Day as a day of service in 1994.
Others in attendance at the Girard College event were Philadelphia police Commissioner Charles Ramsey; U.S. Sen. Bob Casey; U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah; Mayor Michael Nutter and his wife, Lisa; Clarence D. Armbrister, president of Girard College; and Lexie Norcross, a director with Interstate General Media, which helped spearhead the school supplies collection.