Calling for volunteersPublished 10:21am Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Austin human rights officials celebrate MLK by urging volunteerism
Local human rights advocates are urging residents to give back to the community in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
That was the message behind the Austin Human Rights Commission’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration on Monday. Speakers extolled King’s virtues at Christ Episcopal Church Monday while encouraging residents to actively serve others.
“Anything that’s going to make the community better, if that’s through community service projects, if that’s through activism, then it’s all for the better,” HRC co-chairman Jake Vela said. “Our community will be much better for it.”
King, one of the civil rights movement’s most prominent leaders and an advocate for nonviolent protest, won the Nobel Peace Prize at 35 years old in 1963 in part because of his message of service and dedication to others. That message is what local leaders hope to promote within the community. As Rev. Catherine Lemons put it, King followed through on his beliefs and preaching by actively working within communities to better not just black people, but everyone who was disadvantaged.
“Advocating for the poor was something he chose to do,” Lemons told several dozen people gathered for the MLK Day celebration Monday night.
For residents like Nodir Boymatov, service has become crucial. Boymatov is an international student at Riverland Community College who has been in Austin for about a year and a half.
He told people he hadn’t seen such dedication to serving the community in Iran and Tajikistan, where he grew up. He was inspired by local examples of leadership through service, which wasn’t something he normally saw in his home country.
Since coming to the U.S., he has been part of several community organizations and has drawn inspiration from his host family, who not only helps him in the area but donates money to groups that feed the poor. He now hopes to take those lessons with him wherever he goes.
HRC organizers hope to get residents to serve throughout Austin and Mower County, and follow up by posting about their projects on the Austin HRC Facebook page or by writing letters to city hall to inform the HRC about community service projects.
The HRC created a service tree decoration, filled with suggestions on how to help residents, from making Valentine’s Day cards for nursing home residents to planting trees, being kind to animals to volunteering at local youth sports organizations.
Through those actions, organizers hope others will be just as inspired by community service as Boymatov is.
“Because I’ve been blessed, I hope to be a blessing to others,” he said.