As the growing Civil Rights Movement incited detractors in 1959, many faith leaders in Chicago feared backlash and refused to allow Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach to their congregations. Reverend James Marcellus Stone, then pastor of Stone Temple Baptist Church, welcomed Dr. King to preach, knowing that a message of justice and love should be welcomed in his church.
On January 26 of 1966, one year after declaring Chicago the epicenter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s civil rights efforts in the north, Dr. King and his wife Coretta moved to a quaint apartment on the West Side of the city in North Lawndale, across the street from the Stone Temple Baptist Church. Stone Temple would go on to become Dr. King’s “action center” for the Civil Rights Movement. Though Dr. King’s apartment is gone, Stone Temple continues to be a pillar in North Lawndale, the home of UCAN’s headquarters.
For the annual ‘MLK Day of Service,’ observed on Dr. King’s birthday, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Student Leadership and Civic Engagement’s office reached out to UCAN ready to give back to their community.
“We had the opportunity to engage UIC students in North Lawndale and felt that our community needed the support more than us,We build up and support youth who’ve suffered trauma,” says Andrea Lee, Manager of External Affairs Manager at UCAN. “We work with youth themselves, their families, and their community – like with this project. We had the chance to lead this service project to support pillar in our community of North Lawndale that continues to be an ‘action center’ – of spirituality and community connectedness. In addition to supporting the youth through our programs, we recognize that supporting other community institutions is another critical way to build strong youth and families.”
Fifty students from UIC arrived at Stone Temple Baptist Church on January 21st ready to paint, organize, deep clean, and repair floors.
“Today we are celebrating Dr. King while also coming out to support our community,” said Nadine Toussaint, a student at UIC.
Though many people across the country participate in the MLK Day of Service, the UIC students’ day of service was unique in that they gave back to the same community that Dr. King embraced as his own decades before.
“It was really great because some of the community members of the church were hanging out to see what we were doing and encouraging us and thanking us for being there,” says Samantha Lagestee, another UIC student.
By the end of the day, the volunteers had painted two large conference rooms, washed walls in high-traffic hallways, organized the storage room and deep-cleaned the storage area.
“I am grateful for UCAN. I am grateful for the students that came from UIC,” says Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick of Stone Temple. “I’m just excited today, it’s just a beautiful project taking place. I’m sure if Dr. King was alive he’d be happy to see all of us coming together in one place having a united front.”