Almost five decades have passed since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington to call for an end to racial injustice.
Liz Rieser-Murphy, a third-year Miami Law student who once taught at a middle school in the Bronx, remembers learning about Dr. King's legendary "I Have a Dream" speech when she was a child. "His vision of a just world is part of what inspired me to come to law school," she said.
Now, as president of the Public Interest Leadership Board at Miami Law, Rieser-Murphy is putting some of her own dreams into action. When a fellow PILB member, Amanda Leipold, mentioned organizing a community service day in Dr. King's honor, "I was so thrilled," Rieser-Murphy said.
Acutely aware that, despite Dr. King's calls for equality, many Americans still feel the effects of poverty and injustice, the PILB and the Hispanic Law Students Association organized an event for children at the Chapman Partnership for the Homeless in midtown Miami on the holiday that observes Dr. King's memory. At the MLK Day Art Project, volunteers from Miami Law read aloud stories about Dr. King to the youngest of the Chapman Partnership residents, stressing his crucial contributions to equality and civil rights in the United States.
"When it came time to read the story of Martin Luther King Jr., I was given a group of boys aged four to seven," said Megan Britt, a second-year Miami Law student and PILB's vice president. "I initially thought it would be difficult to keep their attention or to really drive home the message of the story, but it turned out to be incredibly interactive! They paid attention, asked questions, and were even able to tell me parts of the story that the book left out."
Keeping Dr. King's "Dream" speech in mind, the children drew and painted pictures of their own aspirations, which ranged from having financial security to becoming astronauts or pop stars. As the paint and glitter – generously donated by Pearl Fine Art Supplies – dried, the Miami Law volunteers helped the students color a mural of Dr. King for the Chapman building. "As the boys got up to join the others with the art projects, excited to show me their dreams," Britt recalled, "one of the little boys, probably around four or five years old, asked me, 'How could they have so much hate when there was so much love?' Yeah, they got it."
The Chapman Partnership, formally known as Community Partnership for the Homeless, employs a holistic approach to help homeless South Floridians get back on their feet. It offers a comprehensive support program that includes meals, health and dental care, day care, job training, job placement, and assistance with securing stable housing. Additionally, the Chapman Partnership's family dormitories can house 756 residents. Since its founding in 1993, the Chapman Partnership has admitted more than 83,500 homeless people, including 16,700 children. Many of the children who participated in the MLK Day Art Project currently live at the Chapman Center with their families.
Leipold, a third-year law student and the MLK Day Art Project coordinator, said it was "a very special day because UM law students got to come together and serve children in need from our own community." As a result, she added, "I felt very connected to Dr. King's mission to end poverty and further equality."
Members of PILB will be volunteering at the Chapman Partnership again on Feb. 24 from 3 p.m. to 5 pm. Anyone else interested in coming along should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.