Who Knew MLK Was so Green?


A coda to this phenomenal Earth Week at THE ROOT: On Earth Day itself, Attorney General Eric Holder took time out from pointed questions about torture memos and prosecutions of Bush administration officials, and celebrated like an increasing number of black Americans: By getting down with nature. After digging and raking (a bit awkwardly) alongside volunteers and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Holder dedicated a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington’s Marvin Gaye Park—where King once spoke in the 1960s, where THE ROOT held its very own “MLK Day of Service” on January 19, 2009.

Though a light rain was falling, the event brought out a mixed crowd of naturalists and eager urban gardeners, young black men who had been drawn into the park’s community center and older women who knew a thing or two about shrubbery. Holder’s remarks were brief—the volunteers had been out since around 9:00 am, hoeing and raking and generally honoring the earth. He touted the progress made by the National Parks Service, the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department, and the local community in far Northeast Washington:

Your work shows. Where there once had been an entrenched heroin market, there is now a community farmers’ market. Where young people once passed the time stealing cars, you’ve created outdoor classrooms and 2000 feet of breathtaking trail. In a place once strewn with trash, you planted over 750 trees and plants. Where people once felt insecure and unsafe, they now feel a sense of community and of peace.

This is the sort of change that Dr. King envisioned, and he understood that such change only happens when people are willing to work for it.


Holder went on to say that “what has happened to this park is an embodiment of his dream”—an argument that I found pretty convincing after seeing the mixed-age and -race crowd interact, and following a conversation I had with Maurice Scott, a 20-something man from the neighborbood who leads a nonprofit arts and mentoring organization for African American males ages 3-21.

Though Scott’s program doesn’t have a particularly environmental focus, he says they also help with

understanding where you come from, your environment. A lot of times in this neighborhood in particular you have young men who are used to just throwing down trash and just putting bottles on the ground. I think a lot of times in this community healthy living isn’t really enforced—so we try to just add that environmental aspect.”

And, with respect to Holder’s words on King, Maurice was impressed:

He spoke about King being here a few years ago. I guess for me it’s the fact that Martin Luther King was well rounded with everything. I know a lot of times people think of Martin Luther King and civil rights, people rights, and just doing the right thing with no racism; but the fact that he was a person that thought about everything around him—the environment, the trees, the birds and the plants and animals—makes him even more of a remarkable person.”


Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.