I’m Jasmine Turner, a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador, at George Washington Memorial Parkway in Washington, DC.
For the past few years, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been bittersweet. This year, I was excited because I was the communications leader for the George Washington Memorial Parkway CVA team. Our park is fortunate that we have a team of five CVAs, that we can rotate responsibilities. As communications leader, I maintained the volunteer.gov responses, interviewed volunteers, created a social media post for our main GWMP Facebook page, and registered the event on the national day of service website. It was also the first time that I would present an interpretative talk as a National Park Service representative. People would be listening to my words and would be putting their volunteer experience in a historical perspective.
The morning of the event, I did my morning ritual of checking Facebook. As a history major, I love the feature called Facebook Memories. I have always pictured time as a spiral rather than as linear, with each new year as a new curve on the spiral. Facebook Memories has been a great tool to use for self-reflection to compare how I was feeling that day. I was nervous for the event, but I couldn’t put a finger on why. I have given plenty of presentations in my life! Reading the Facebook Memory of that day, I saw a post that I had written four years ago in 2013:
I have thought of my grandmother every day since she passed right before MLK day last year. Thinking of how hard she fought for her education. Her story of being spit on by white children riding the bus to school while she walked to school on the road. Our shock to finding out that she finished Teacher’s College at a time when most black people were forced to stop going to school. Grandma, I am proud to carry your name as one of my own. We love you.
Ah. That’s why. Even though my mind wasn’t ready to remember that pain, my body was already expressing it. My grandmother’s stories of segregation and how important her faith in God and education is to justice for all people. This sense of service to one’s community would influence my aunt and uncles into careers in healthcare and military. In fact, my father’s first job was when he was teenager serving as a member of Student Conservation Association forest crew!
Service is also a foundation from my mother’s family. My grandparents are from the Nisei generation. They grew up as second generation Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. After Pearl Harbor, my grandfather and his friends tried to enlist into the military and they were denied. Not soon enough, the American military realized that they needed people who could speak and write Japanese. My grandfather served in the Military Intelligence Service breaking Japanese spy codes. The story of the MIS is not well known because the knowledge was classified. After World War II, my grandfather became a lawyer and judge because he never wanted to see another group of people denied their human rights or interned.
It was with these family memories of their decisions to serve, that I gave this speech at our Day of Service:
Good morning and welcome to Theodore Roosevelt Island, one of the sites of George Washington Memorial Parkway. Thank you for joining with us on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service which is one of the special initiatives by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Corporation for National and Community Service’s mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.
In that spirit, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is referred to as a “day on, not a day off”. Thousands of volunteers across the country are working today to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by finding positive ways to solve community problems. While Martin Luther King Jr. is a national hero, it is important to remember that he was one among many. Even though America has not always been inclusive or affirmative of all people, there have always been people who said that America can be more than what it is at the time. This willingness to reflect upon our character as individuals, engage with each other and act is what allows a democracy to be sustainable. A part of that is having people feel connected to public lands, that we are the owners of these places and of our stories.
The sites of George Washington Memorial Parkway are just a few in our country that were the stages of moments in American history where people made decisions to serve others. From George Washington (deciding to be a new type of leader, a president instead of a king), Clara Barton (a woman deciding to be an Angel of Mercy to soldiers), the United States Colored Troops who decided to fight as soldiers for a country reluctant to claim them as citizens and used Theodore Roosevelt Island as a safe haven, and protestors at Glen Echo amusement park who decided that all families should be feel welcomed during recreation.
As volunteers and staff members of the National Park Service, the core of our work is the reflection of our identities as Americans as expressed through the preservation and care of our lands and memories. Thank you for your service.
Our event was an unprecedented success! We had 99 volunteers manage invasive plants on five acres of land and collected 40 bags of trash. Our park site was beautified and we have started the new year with great momentum.