Every year, City Year Chicago celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day by activating over 700 AmeriCorps members to beautify a school building in Chicago in what is called a national day of service.
But with the coronavirus pandemic still in full swing, the organization couldn’t in good conscience bring that many people into a single school building this year. It needed to think of a new way they could live out their mission of giving back to the community.
“We couldn’t do our traditional MLK Day so what we did instead is we sent out hundreds of wooden leaves to out supporters, to our corps members and everyone kind of painted a representation of the last year,” said Dirrick Butler, a civic engagement leader with City Year Chicago.
The mural installed at Randolph Elementary School on Thursday is painted with vibrant colors and showcases a tree with multi-colored wooden leaves. Some of the leaves were callbacks to social justice movements over the last year while others focused on the growth of the students AmeriCorps members have mentored.
“This tree represents what we hope our work here at Randolph represents,” Butler said. “Like, us supporting the school, building strong roots, so the students can grow into the leaders and the people we know that they can be.”
Five similar murals were installed in five other South Side and West Side schools on Thursday.
Since 1988, City Year has been helping develop young people through service-oriented work by putting its AmeriCorps members in underserved communities across the country. In Chicago, they are in over 32 Chicago Public Schools, where AmeriCorps members assist teachers and mentor students.
Corps members generally serve one or two years at a school before graduating from the program.
Myetie Hamilton, vice president for City Year Chicago, said “Randolph holds a very special place in my heart” since she started her career at the school, 7316 S. Hoyne Ave.
“When I came on board with City Year I intentionally selected this school to visit on my very first morning,” Hamilton said. “What I still feel here is that sense of community, and it was always rich in community but even through this year which was a uniquely challenging one.”
Randolph Principal Elizabeth Meyers said the impact City Year Chicago has on her students is incalculable, and she welcomes the new batch of AmeriCorps members each year with open arms.
“We appreciate the support and just the commitment to being with our kids,” Meyers said. “That says so much especially in a community that doesn’t have as much as they deserve.”