A day of service – not a day off – for Port Richmond students

Sixth grader Zaire Davis described Dr. King as “a good person trying to get rid of all the negativity in the world and make the world a positive place.”

Memphis Street Academy sixth graders (From left) Kalisa Drummond, Katya Hernandez, Amanda Salas and Mishka Irizzary pose for a picture after they painted rocks on Martin Luther King Jr Day in an effort to promote peace and kindness.

Fifth- and sixth-grade students at Port Richmond’s Memphis Street Academy spent last week’s Martin Luther King Day as a day of service, painting rocks, which will be made into a rock garden on school grounds. The day was part of Rachel’s Challenge, which is a national movement to promote kindness and prevent bullying in schools. The challenge is named after Rachel Joy Scott, who was the first person killed in the Columbine Massacre.

“Our CEO, Ms. [Antoinette] Powell thought it would be a great idea for our students to understand what a day of service is,” said the school’s principal, Shavonne McMillan. “It’s not just a day off. It’s a day of actual service.”

After brainstorming some ideas, school officials decided on the rock garden idea. It’s the first time in McMillan’s 13 years of being involved in education that her school did something like this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“That speaks volumes about the greatness that we’re doing here and all the greatness that we’re doing here at Memphis Street Academy,” she said.

Some of the messages painted on the rocks included “Everybody is unique in their own way,” “Kindness for all!” and “Believe.” Other were painted simply with hearts and rainbows.

“Kindness counts, [it] matters to be kind to one another,” said sixth-grade teacher Amy Kingsmill. “So maybe there’ll be a little less violence in the world when these kids grow up.”

The school’s seventh-graders were sent out into the city to volunteer somewhere for three hours. Many students went to places like Girard College and Philabundance to help with various Martin Luther King Day events.

“It’s important to celebrate these things [because] there’s so much negativity in the world around us that many people forget the meaning of the things that make us human,” said sixth-grader Anthony Gonzalez. “[Some people are] focused on things like war or a potential war, the president and many other things like that.”

Zaire Davis, Gonzalez’s fellow classmate, described King as “a good person trying to get rid of all the negativity in the world and make the world a positive place.”

“We’re not just celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., we’re celebrating everybody that came before him and after him who’s making sure that this world is better than how it is right now,” added Kingsmill. “These kids have a bright and wonderful future. That’s what we’re trying to celebrate. That’s what we’re trying to teach these children. That to be kind counts.”