Sign Up for The Root’s Day of Service

Coming to D.C. for the inauguration? Time to get to work!

TODAY, 12pm:  Join the Live Online discussion on GOING GREEN FOR THE INAUGURATION with The Root‘s associate editor Natalie Hopkinson and Washington Parks & People founder Steve Coleman.

In the days leading up to the inauguration of Barack Obama, Washington, D.C. will be transformed into one big, jubilant street festival. We at The Root have nothing against inaugural glitz and glitter, see nothing wrong with a little floss. In fact, we fully expect to see flashy gowns, stretch limos and tuxedo tails in abundance at our own inaugural ball.   

Still, as America prepares to celebrate the party of a lifetime, this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 19, 2009 is more than a day off. It is more than a prelude to Obama’s inauguration, which happens the next day. We believe the universe arranged for millions of people to flock to Washington just in time to revive the legacy of public service epitomized by Martin Luther King Jr.

There is plenty of work to be done, right here in Washington, in the Obama family’s new backyard. So The Root has decided to sponsor a day of service at Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast Washington, D.C. from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 19. Volunteers of all ages are welcome to sign up via the e-mail address provided below and meet us at Riverside Center, in Northeast Washington, to help spruce up the area as part of its ongoing revitalization.

For years, our nonprofit partner for this day of service, Washington Parks & People, has been working to document Marvin Gaye Park’s rich and mostly forgotten African-American heritage, as well as realize its potential for urban green space. In 2004, the group bought the Riverside Center, the building formerly known as the Crystal Lounge where Marvin Gaye performed as a young man. The late R&B singer grew up in the East Capitol Dwellings, a public-housing complex that once abutted the park that now bears his name. Soon after Gaye’s childhood home was razed to make way for new development in 2004, the park (formerly known as Watts Branch) was renamed in the singer’s honor in 2006.

The park also includes the Watts Branch Recreation Center, a part of District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation (another partner for this day of service) and the King Sanctuary, a greenhouse that sits on the site where Martin Luther King Jr. gave a 1961 speech urging Washington residents to participate in a sit-in downtown.

Despite this rich history, Marvin Gaye Park is one of the most neglected green spaces in the city, far from the white marble monuments most Washington tourists see. In the late 1990s, activists and neighborhood residents began a long process of reclaiming the space, which had become a notorious drug market and public dumping ground. There is now a Saturday farmer’s market, and the adjoining 1.6 mile nature trail is a site for children’s nature programs and urban gardening plots filled with fresh produce. Neighborhood residents are coming to programs at the city’s first community greening center and nursery to train for “green jobs.”

Washington Parks & People is in the process of renovating Riverside Center to provide more programs and welcoming community space for area residents. The Root would like to help D.C. revitalize this space, so rich with history. If you are looking for a way to give back and celebrate community in the midst of the inaugural celebrations, sign up to join us on this very special day of service.