For the fourth year, American Legion Post 90 and its Auxiliary partnered with the V.I. Office of Veterans Affairs to host a series of community oriented events in celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The events were held across the weekend and capped off with a final event on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
The event took place in the American Legion Hall in Subbase and featured performances from the St. Thomas Heritage Dancers and the Ulla Muller Panatics. It also involved collaboration from Community Action Now, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, St. Thomas East End Lions Club, the Student Government Association of the University of the Virgin Islands, the Family of Faith African Methodist Episcopal Church, the office of Sen. Marvin Blyden, DIVAS Incorporated, Amaiyah Helping Hands Foundation, and Low Price Maintenance.
Community groups throughout the nation celebrate the Day of Service annually both in honor of King, and in the spirit of community. American Legion Post 90 and American Legion Auxiliary frequently hosts events centered around supporting local veterans. They invited the community to join them on the Day of Service.
Attendees had the opportunity to purchase cake and plates of food, paint inspirational stencils, participate in a Zumba sessions, create care packages for veterans, and more.
Additional events held by American Legion Post 90 and Auxiliary during the MLK weekend included a game night, student essay contest, giveaways, and a health and fitness walk.
“We wanted to make an effort to support our veterans and military families on St. Thomas in this day of service while also commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.”, said organizer Vilma Wallace.
Wallace is a St. Thomian who recently returned to the island after spending many years living in Atlanta, Georgia. Since leaving the island she has heavily involved herself in community service projects in both St. Thomas and Atlanta.
Wallace said she is empowered by her upbringing, which championed volunteering in the community.
“As a youth in St. Thomas my parents instilled in me the importance of volunteering” Wallace said. During her formative years Wallace was a Girl Scout and volunteered in the hospital.
“In planning this event, we reached out to organizations with a dedication to service. I hope that through this event I can continue to promote volunteering and community service, and encourage young people to make a commitment to service in their community,” Wallace said.
One participating group with a dedication to service was based out of Atlanta. Amaiyah’s Helping Hands Foundation was founded after the accidental death of Amaiyah Miller in 2012. For five years the organization has held clothing and food drives, mentorship programs, and fed those living in shelters.
“Our goal is to help children all around the world,” said the organization’s vice-president, Shannon Claxton. Claxton had toiletries and bags to be sent to those in the armed forces and she is a veteran herself.
The Family of Faith African Methodist Episcopal Church, a relatively new addition to the faith community on St. Thomas, also took part. The name of the church originates from the fact that it was a ‘leap of faith’ to start a chapter here, as the last A.M.E. church closed more than 100 years ago after the death of its minister.
“Service for the community is part of the brand of A.M.E. We aim to break down walls and build bridges with others regardless of race or religion,” said the Rev. Charles Lee Brown Jr.
Brown said the Day of Service is “the best way to honor Dr. King. He dedicated his life, we should all be able to dedicate at least one day.”
In addition to the importance of community service, the life and legacy of MLK attendees and organizers. All involved with the event made sure to take a moment to acknowledge the importance of his sacrifices.
“MLK Day is important to me because it exemplifies the freedoms I find precious, said said Margarita Charles Smith, a longtime member of St. Thomas Heritage Dancers. “As a teacher, I make sure my students understand that freedom is not free, people died for many of the things we have today. We must not take it for granted, and we must make sure they did not die in vain.”
Charlene Jones, vice-president of the St. Thomas East Lions Club, said King’s legacy must be shared.
“His legacy should be learned by all,” she said. “I lived through the era where his work took place, and everyone who knows what his life meant should educate the younger generation of what it means to give your life so that all can have equal rights.”
The club’s secretary, Leona M. Dawson, chimed in to say, “He was a man before his time and a man with a vision. I have yet to see his vision truly come to pass.”
“In my middle school years I found a connection to Dr. Martin Luther King through one of his many speeches, in particular the statement ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?’” Wallace said. “This question has stuck with me and I continue to find ways to support my community through volunteering and educating others about service.”