AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Dozens of teenagers and their adult mentors gathered at three locations on Monday, using the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a youth day of service.
It’s the only national holiday that is designated as a national day of service. Organizers with the Akron NAACP, along with other community organizers, wanted to not only show what that looks like, but to bring young people in the community together for a very frank discussion about unity in the aftermath of the death of Jayland Walker.
At the Lawton Street Community Center, students and football players from Buchtel Community Learning Center, along with their peers from Revere High School and others, pitched in to clean up.
“We have football players who are mopping, we have moms who are vacuuming. We are all here just trying to do our part,” said Akron NAACP President Judi Hill.
A similar scene played out simultaneously at Joy Park Community Center and Mt. Zion Church.
“We selected sites that provide community support and we wanted to give back to those community organizations,” said Hill.
“They look at it as a day off, but we look at it like, ‘hey, it’s a service day for our community, for our families and we want to keep building off of that,'” said Buchtel Football Coach and Athletic Director Bryan WIlliams.
“We are not here to be coaches. We are here to be life coaches for these young men and let them understand, ‘When the air leaves the ball, what’s your second act going to be?’ How you can build your resume with building your community hours and things of that nature,” Williams said.
“Dr Martin Luther King Jr., one famous quote that he said is, ‘Everyone can’t be famous, but everyone can be great because everyone can serve,'” said Jamar Blackmon, a motivational speaker who brought teens affiliated with his organization, “Goalgetta Academy.”
The staff at the Lawton Street Community Center say the help is appreciated since they serve hundreds of people from the age of 5 to senior citizens and, at the present time, do not have a housekeeping staff.
“I have after-school program here, so I am constantly cleaning up after kids, wiping tables down, making sure the bathrooms are cleaned and stocked,” said Lawton Street Community Center Recreational Specialist Hallie Lewis.
Some of the teens pitching in admit they did not know what to expect.
“You know, helping the community out, helping people on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a good thing to do,” said Buchtel Freshman Saiden Harris.
“It feels good. Like, not a lot of people give back to their community. There’s a lot of violence going on. They don’t even care about the community anymore,” said Buchtel Sophomore Stevie Diamond.
Monday’s service day completed four days of events and activities, during which organizers merged the MLK holiday weekend with messages of unity in the name of Jayland Walker.
Walker died after he was shot more than 40 times while running from Akron police officers in June.
The incident followed a short chase in which police believe Walker shot at them from his car. A handgun was found on the driver’s seat of Walker’s car.
The facts surrounding the shooting remain the focus of a BCI investigation.
“We want people to see that we all love this community. We want to see it thrive. This is a part of us all loving on each other,” said Hill
“It’s going to be interesting. So, what we want to do is to keep instilling hope because we know if we can’t have that hope, we are not going to move forward as a city, and we have done a great job so far,” she said. “We (as a community) are not going to all agree on how it gets done, or maybe what needs to be done, but we can have a conversation about common goals so we can keep the city moving forward.”