‘Advancing the Dream’: Charitable and inspirational events for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A fifth-grader reads her poem at the North Central Neighborhood Association’s MLK Poetry and Essay Contest on Thursday night at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in San Mateo.

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches, local charitable organizations, churches and young people are planning on following in the footsteps of the late reverend by using the holiday to inspire others to give back to their communities.

On Saturday, San Mateo’s North Central Neighborhood Association will be holding an award ceremony for its 31st annual MLK Essay and Poetry contest for children ages preschool to 12th-grade, the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo will hold its annual reception party and on Monday, the Peninsula Multifaith Coalition will gather a variety of volunteers to help give back at events throughout the county.

About 200 kids from the San Mateo and Foster City schools as well as kids from various churches throughout San Mateo have submitted “Advancing the Dream” inspired works, which they performed on Wednesday and Thursday. The contest will culminate with the winners reading their writings on Saturday at the King Center, said event organizer Anita Webb.

“[The contest] teaches the kids about King and what he stood for. Because our history is sometimes not told and what King stood for was equal rights, for all kids. This is a diverse community, you’ll see kids from all ethnicities representing themselves and expressing themselves through writing,” Webb said.

There will be six winners per grade and although the kids are competing for monetary donations, its real purpose is learning how to show love and compassion for one another, Webb said.

“They’re learning how to resolve their differences in a peaceful manner,” Webb said. “The main theme is peace and love towards one another and what [they] get a lot of too, is that the kids feel like they can make a difference.”

The preschool through fourth-graders read their poems or essays aloud on Wednesday and the fifth- through 12th-graders participated on Thursday. The winners will be announced Saturday morning and recite their works from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Webb said.

“[King] was a great speaker and the kids are encouraged to want to speak well and a lot of them do. They look at what he’s done and they look at the peaceful way he’s done it and it really does help the kids,” Webb said.

Immediately following Saturday’s award ceremony, the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo will be honoring King with its 25th annual reception comprised of a pot luck, speakers, music and birthday cake, said Jennifer Martin, co-chair of the event.

Martin also has two children competing in the “Advancing the Dream” themed essay contest.

“It’s important that they know the legacy of Dr. King and carry it forward,” Martin said. “They learn how to integrate [King’s message] into their poems and about what his dreams were and how they apply today.”

Bullying is much too prevalent in schools nowadays, so it’s vital to teach compassion and equality, Webb said.

“I’m hoping that the speeches and what the kids are saying reaches some of those kids that are bullying and maybe make them feel like they’re accepted and equal. Because bullying is starting from something or, I think maybe, a lack of something,” Webb said.

The contestants come from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities; having them write about their own experiences and interpretations of King’s life and teachings will help raise a generation of children who strive to live in acceptance and love, Webb said.

The equally diverse Peninsula Multifaith Coalition will also be enacting the works of King through several volunteer activities on the Jan. 20 holiday.

The grassroots PMC was founded in 2012 by members of 16 different faith-based organizations with religions ranging from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism and other denominations, said PMC representative Karen Wisialowski. The organization thrives on bringing those of various backgrounds to share in their cultures and philanthropic beliefs, Wisialowski said.

“Our purpose is to get together and work together in the community. And in the process of doing that, we get to know each other,” Wisialowski said.

Last year, PMC gathered about 175 volunteers; this year they are expecting more than 300 people, Wisialowski said.

PMC is kicking off the holiday at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast at the First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame before volunteers are dispersed to various service sites. Outreach events include preparing and serving lunch for residents at a homeless shelter, classroom improvements at a local school, distributing winter coats and books, a youth choir singing for the elderly and crafting items for Ukrainian orphans, Wisialowski said.

Collaborating with people from all walks of life and beliefs to show compassion and promote equality is the most sincere way to spend the holiday, Wisialowski said.

“We are all different faith groups and each one of us in our tradition believes very strongly in contributing to the community and in social justice,” Wisialowski said. “And of course, Martin Luther King was all about social justice, so it makes sense that we come together on this day.”

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