Who knew this was Austin?

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Ignacio Cruz, Shannon Sandrea, and Kristin West at the MLK Day of Service

Who knew Austin looked like this? I’m specifically speaking about the attendees of this past weekend’s MLK Day of Service event, produced by the United Way. I’d heard about this event before, so I decided it was time to finally check it out. “This is actually one of our smallest events,” Mando Rayo told me. He’s the director of Hands on Central Texas… I’ve mentioned him before.

Small or not, this was a lively group of about 150 who showed up despite the cold, drizzly weather. They gathered in a big hall on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University – “Texas’ first institution of higher education, by the way,” said State Rep Dawna Dukes, a speaker at the event. I didn’t know that. In fact, I was surprised by a lot of things that day. Admittedly, I don’t get out as much as I should. But I’d never seen such a mix of people! White-haired white men, dreadlocked and Afro’d African-Americans, white women, Hispanic men, teenagers, small children, people of every color, gender, size, and age that I’ve ever seen in Austin, all in one big room.

I live on the West Side. Not west of Mopac, I mean west of I-35. We west-of-I-35’ers don’t get to see many different kinds of people. Now, I’m from San Antonio and have lived on the South Side of Chicago and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, so I’m used to getting a mix. Can I just tell you how nice it was so see this mix again? And here in Austin? Oh, it was nice.

Other nice surprises:

1. I didn’t realize just how willing these people would be to participate. A group called Theater Action Project (yet another nonprofit I’d never heard of – and I’m looking for these NPOs, folks!) got the entire 100+ group to walk around, jump, yell out their names, touch each other, laugh, and work together. I know this sounds strange to point out, but the fact is that hardly any of these people knew each other. All strangers, making little houses over other strangers. Wow. You can’t get that level of participation at a wedding.

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2. I didn’t know anything about The Cipher. And you must check these young men and women out. They are all self-expression, hurt, and hopefulness: “Tell me what would you say if you had the whole world paying attention.” This group of about nine young people, led by a young man named Gator, perform original beats and rhymes one after the other, each reflecting on the message of “I have a dream.” These are Austinites, folks, and you should hear what they have t say.

3. As a child, Pastor Joe Parker knew Dr. Martin Luther King. His father was a pastor and a friend of MLK. And MLK has had a profound effect on Pastor Parker’s life. Joe Parker was an attorney – and a successful one at that – but he left it all for the Baptist ministry. He was called to service and, more importantly, he answered that call. Pastor Parker spoke at the MLK event on Saturday, and he was captivating. Who knew one of Austin’s best leaders had been directly inspired by one of the world’s greatest leaders?

For more about the event, visit the UWCA blog.

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