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Honoring King by using some elbow grease

Drexel University students and community members worked together on the holiday to spruce up McMichael School in Mantua.

Volunteers painting at McMichael school.
Darryl Murphy

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Darryl Murphy
Promise Neighborhood partners Drexel University and Morton McMichael School joined forces on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday for a day of service, as volunteers came together to spruce up the West Philadelphia school.

Students and administrators from Drexel University joined parents and faculty of the K-8 school for what some might call an early spring cleaning. Together, they painted the exterior hallway doors with the school’s bright, vibrant blue and yellow. They also organized instructional materials and cleaned up the outside of the school.

The idea came from Dollette Johns-Smith, assistant principal at McMichael, with the help of Christian Edge, director of K-12 school work for Drexel University: They wanted to increase community engagement with the hopes of nurturing a sense of pride that will carry through the halls into the surrounding community of Mantua.

“When I started working at McMichael,” said Johns-Smith, who is in her first year at the school, “one of the things we wanted to do was make the building inviting for the students and then get the community involved so they can see the shift that we’re making at McMichael, moving more toward a [community-based education].”

The organizers of the cleanup expected no more than 100 people to volunteer, but to their surprise, more than 200 people, mostly Drexel students, showed up ready to work.

The holiday is regarded as a national day of service and people across the country are encouraged to honor the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by taking action to address the needs of their communities.

Drexel University freshman Keyanna Bynum said King’s legacy of fighting for those in need must not be forgotten.

“[People] don’t know that Martin Luther King Day is supposed to be a day of service,” said Bynum, a nursing student, while painting a door yellow. “So I think it is important that we teach, especially the young kids, that this is what Martin Luther King Day is about.”

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