On Martin Luther King Day, President Barack Obama painted walls at the Browne Education Center in Washington DC along with wife Michelle and daughter Malia. To honor King in the same spirit, 80 volunteers from 14 faith groups worked with Habitat for Humanity- NYC during their 13th annual “Building on a Dream” Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A key principle of King Day is public service.
Like the president, Tanya Purcell, a workers compensation case manager, wanted to help the community. Along with members from Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, Queens, she helped paint the Saratoga Senior Center in Bed-Stuy rolling large swaths of lime paint on a pillar with finesse. Tanya had never painted before her last volunteer project with Habitat’s “Brush With Kindness” program. “It’s rewarding. I’m having a good time and I’m part of a bigger cause even though I’m only painting one pillar,” she shared with pride.
Her friend Kimberly Shen has ‘painting experience’ with the pre-schoolers she works with. “I wanted to do something for Martin Luther King Day and give back to the community,” she said as she added bright orange and yellow paint to leaves on a tree, part of the Center’s mural.
Just down Halsey St., more volunteers worked alongside future Habitat-NYC homeowners to renovate a six-unit building. On her knees, pounding slats with a rubber mallet, family partner Raphaleeta Dias snapped flooring together. She was putting in her sweat equity hours and was completing about half of the required 200 hours of work. Previously, she installed insulation and worked with sheet rock.
Bed-Stuy resident Dias lives with her three children in overcrowded conditions and is waiting for a three-bedroom unit to become available. “We look forward to more space,” she said, hoping to move in the vicinity. Habitat-NYC’s “100 Homes in Brooklyn” program is about half complete.
Following the morning of work on Saturday, rewarded by a tasty lunch, the Building on the Dream event to further celebrate King’s life and legacy, a program of music, poetry, and remarks by housing activists and elected officials, was held at the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
The New York City Housing Authority Youth Chorus with coordinator Carmen Roman opened the program singing musical selections that included Lift Every Voice and Sing, Up Where We Belong, Thank-you for One More Day and Put a Little Love in Your Heart.
Advocacy Manager of Habitat-NYC Matt Dunbar emphasized the need for affordable housing. “Build Louder” is a new motto for Habitat, he relayed and for those sawing, pounding, and nailing on this day, these words really resonated. “We must speak out against policies that keep people in poverty,” he said and challenged the notion that low-income families make better renters than owners.
Assembly Member Karim Camara, who is Senior Pastor at Abundant Life Church and Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, delivered the keynote speech. He spoke of “servant leadership”, faith inspired activism. “There is a lot of work to do,” he said of pervasive poverty exploitation, racism, sexism, and the challenges for children who do not have the proper resources in their schools. “We still have to fight for Dr. King’s dream. Until everyone reaches their potential, we haven’t reached the promise land.”
A surprise visit and speaker was Haiti’s Minister of Haitians Living Abroad Daniel Supplice whose presence was a “thank-you” for the housing work Habitat is doing in Haiti.
The program ended on a high note with former Bed-Stuy resident College Hall of Famer Thabiti Boone, now of the White House Fatherhood & Mentoring Initiative. Thabiti overcame challenging personal circumstances as a single teenage father and college basketball player, balancing sports stardom, and academic and parenting responsibilities. He sacrificed his NBA Dream to raise his daughter. He ended his presentation by calling upon young men from the Youth Chorus to read a letter from President Obama to Habitat and the Family Partners.
During the King weekend, Habitat-NYC launched its 2012 Housing Covenant, the organization’s annual housing advocacy agenda that includes a call for 2013 Mayoral Candidates to produce comprehensive affordable housing plans that address the full housing continuum, from ownership and rental to supportive and emergency housing.
Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindus and Jewish volunteers participated in Habitat’s weekend devoted to Martin Luther King.