Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington, D.C.-based author whose current projects deal with the arts, gender and public life. She is the author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter

Let's Get it On


Honoring a King

A detail from a painting of Marvin Gaye taken from inside the Riverside Center in Northeast Washington, D.C., where nearly 200 volunteers from around the country gathered in honor of the Martin Luther King's Holiday. Volunteers squeezed in the service project before the historical inauguration of Barack Obama the next day.

Down by the Riverside

Snow sprinkled that morning, and many writers and editors from The Root were recovering from The Root's Inaugural Ball the night before. Still,  nearly 200 volunteers from across the country came out to the Riverside Center, at 5200 Foote Street N.E., Washington, D.C. for the park clean-up. 

An Idea Takes Root

Health activist and PhD student Autumn Saxton-Ross gives instructions to volunteers. The week before, the Huffington Post asked Autumn write an essay about how she came up with the idea for the service project.

Heritage Park

Washington Parks & People founder Steve Coleman points to the map of a 1.6 miled African American heritage trail located in the park that is formerly known as Watts Branch. Also along the trail is the King sanctuary, a green house located where Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech in 1961 urging D.C. residents to take part in a sit-in downtown.

Marvin Gaye Park Map

Close-up of the trail that volunteers hiked during the clean-up.

Finding Our Roots

The Root Associate Editor Natalie Hopkinson welcomes volunteers from the stage where Marvin Gaye gave his first performance. Hopkinson and Coleman discussed the larger urban green movement in a live chat with readers.

Marvin Gaye's House

An old photo of Marvin Gaye's former home, located steps away from the park. The city razed the structure in 2004, along with the rest of the public housing project where Gaye lived as a teenager. The outcry over the demolition inspired the city to rename the adjoining park in the singer's honor in 2006.

Before the Cleanup….

The group had quite a job on our hands.

Sign Me Up

Latavia Savage, of Chicago, Ill. manned the sign-in table, where volunteers got The Root Day of Service T-shirts.

The Riverbank

New Life for the Crystal Lounge

In 2004, the nonprofit group Washington Parks & People, bought the Riverside Center, the building formerly known as the Crystal Lounge where Marvin Gaye gave his first public performance. In addition to a Saturday farmer's market, the adjoining 1.6 mile nature trail hosts children's nature programs, gardening plots, and training for "green jobs."

Renewing America

This event was among the thousands listed on the Presidential Inauguration Committee Web site, which helped to draw volunteers from Santa Barbara, Calif., Springfield, Oh., Memphis, Tenn., and Newark, N.J.

Sisterly Service

A batch of local AKAs came out to support. Their local chapter also donated $200 for supplies.

Wade in the Water

Volunteers put on hip boots and waded in the stream to pick up trash.

Mini Volunteers

This family from Washington, D.C. showed it's never too early to start giving back.

Mattresses and Tires

Volunteers fished out everything from a motorcycle, to tires to a mattress that was dumped in the park by motorists. 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.

Fishing Branches from the Stream

Several fallen branches had to be pulled from the stream.

Getting There

Working up an Appetite

Subway restaurant donated 200 sandwiches for volunteers of all ages. Krispy Kreme provided hot donuts, and Coca Cola Co. provided Fuse soft drinks for everyone who came out.

Kennedy School Represents

This group of volunteers are alumni of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in town for the inauguration festivities.

Tossing It

Memphis Family

Raking up leaves directly across the street from the Riverside Center near the Marvin Gaye Amphitheatre.

Working it Out


Coming in from Texas

Ohio Brothers

Getting marching orders from the Riverside staff.

Raking it In

Recycling Tires

Dumping auto parts is never a good look, because someone has to clean up the mess.

Making a Difference


From Left to Right: Autumn Saxton-Ross, Natalie Hopkinson, Steve Coleman, The Root Managing Editor Lynette Clemetson and The Root Publisher Donna Byrd celebrate the end of an exhilirating day. Thanks to everyone who came out on this historic weekend, and long live the spirit of Martin Luther King!