“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) and LAYC’s Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (LAYC/MMYC) honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy each January through the MLK Day of Service. This year’s celebration, on January 20th, included events across four different sites, each embodying a different aspect of Dr. King’s civil rights and activism work. Below are some highlights.

Approximately 100 community members gathered at LAYC’s Kaplan building in DC for an event centered around the idea that education is essential to the continuing work of anti-racism in our communities. The event featured opening remarks from Paul Monteiro, Howard University Chief of Staff to President Wayne A. I. Frederick and Assistant Vice President of External Affairs, and participation from community partner Public Allies. LAYC organizers and participants included LAYC AmeriCorps members; youth from the Teen Center’s The Club; participants of STRIPES, LAYC’s group for LGBTQ+ youth and allies; and LAYC’s Digital Pathways Program participants.

Activities included workshops on issues surrounding conscious and implicit bias, community peacebuilding, the history of civil rights movements, and intersectionality in activism. 

It’s useful for our community to come together and reflect on the work [Dr. King] was doing, to think about how it’s still applicable to us today, and think about intersectionality, relating his fight to communities still fighting oppression today.” – Kynai Johnson, LAYC Director of Workforce and Education

At LAYC’s Drop-In Center, where runaway, homeless, and unstably housed youth receive basic services, activities focused on empowering and encouraging youth to reflect on their experiences with the program and give back to their community. Organizers led a roundtable discussion on current politics and how it connects to youths’ lives. Human Rights Campaign returned again this year with more than 20 volunteers who donated items from the Drop-In Centers’ Amazon wish list, helped organize a clean and organize the center, and provided a resume building service for program participants.

Speaking later about the event, Marcos Nuñez, the Drop-in Center program manager, said, “Seeing the room filled with multicultural volunteers and employees, and [representing] different careers in the room, helped us understand the level we’ve come to. We’ve surpassed what [MLK’s] idea was, and I think that was amazing in itself.” 

LAYC/MMYC’s Prince George’s County site celebrated a day of uplifting their community and living the spirit of brotherhood advocated by Dr. King. In attendance were 650 students and families from Prince George’s County and Prince George’s County Public Schools Board members including Alvin Thorton, Board Chair; Pamela Boozer-Strother, District 3; and At-Large members Paul Monteiro and Sandra Shephard. The event included a book drive; a community resource fair; performances from middle school and high school youth; and speeches from Jose Muñoz, Director for the Coalition for Community Schools; The Honorable Angela Alsobrooks, Prince George’s County Executive; and The Honorable Deni Taveras, Prince George’s County Councilmember. 

LAYC youth, nonprofit partners, and AmeriCorps members led 12 different service workshops, highlighting issues relevant to youth and their community. Each activity was informed by youth input and charity-focused, with participants making items to donate to various community organizations such as 186 hygiene kits and letters of encouragement for those affected by the earthquake in Puerto Rico, 120 hygiene kits for human trafficking survivors at the University of Maryland SAFE Center, and 30 anti-bullying posters for four local schools.

LAYC’s Montgomery County site celebrated by partnering with other community organizations committed to social equity in a collaborative meal packing event. Montgomery County staff, youth, and volunteers had the opportunity to work with Howard University’s Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Delta Sigma Theta is one of the oldest Black Greek letter organizations in the US, with a long-standing mission to uplift African-American communities through economic, social, and educational development.

The event was also attended by the Honorable Karla Silvestre, Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education member; and several Montgomery County Councilmembers, including the the Honorable Evan Glass, the Honorable Tom Hucker, the Honorable Gabriel Albornoz, and the Honorable Will Jawando. This widespread, multi-sector participation emphasized the importance of collective action and the power of communities to enact local change.

LAYC’s mission to empower a diverse population of youth has guided our organizational vision for 52 years. In 2020, as we embark on a new three-year strategic plan, LAYC has committed to making racial equity a central part of our nonprofit identity. Part of this work has been embracing and responding to the needs of our multicultural youth population, which is currently comprised of 42% African-American and 47% Latino youth. As part of these efforts, LAYC hired an Equity and Inclusion Coordinator this month to help us mobilize our strategic planning goals around equity, as well as continue our immigration advocacy work. 

We plan to continue to find new and innovative ways to engage youth in our events and make learning about Dr. King meaningful to them. For example, to foster continuing conversations on anti-racism in DC, LAYC’s Teen Center hosted Black History Month events throughout February, and a Black History Month Celebration on February 21. More information on the Teen Center can be found here.

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