The city of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day a bit differently this year. Celebrations began with an Edmund Pettus Bridge reenactment, where individuals from the community united and marched through town, stopping at various points to commemorate different aspects of the Civil Rights movement, especially surrounding the events of the marches from Selma to Montgomery.
In honor of the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the Coatesville community leadership, with strong support from the community, banded together to carry on the legacy of King by not only speaking about change, justice and advocacy, but also by emphasizing the day of service and providing ample opportunities to serve.
[CLICK HERE to watch a video summary of the day of events in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, on Martin Luther King Dr. Day 2024 (Jan. 15).]
As a tribute to King’s housing initiative that he began in November of 1967, the W.C. Atkinson Memorial Community Service Center, an Adventist Center of Influence in partnership with many other organizations including Good Works and Adventist Community Services, started a home renovation project on January 2, 2024, with a goal of completion by MLK Jr. Day. This is the sixth home renovation project in Coatesville spearheaded by the W.C. Atkinson Center. These homes are provided for unhoused veterans in the community and have been a blessing to the city of Coatesville for years.
“It is a very difficult job to gut a house and try to get it back together in the short space of time that we did … It was not anything of my own doing that I would take on this project, but I believe that God will be able to sustain us as we go through with it,” house renovation project director Walter Harris explained. “And, He brought some awesome volunteers to work with us and kept us going in the demolition of it — and then the next part of it [in] putting it back together.”
During the afternoon of Coatesville MLK Jr. Day celebrations, there was a soft opening and open house for the renovation project as a celebration of what God had done in the substantial progress toward the complete home renovation project.
Being the Change
Minnie McNeil, a former ACS Columbia Union Conference director, who serves as the vice president for the W.C. Atkinson Community Service Center stated, “We are intentional about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day of service here in Coatesville because there were so many instances [of] disparity. There was racism here in Coatesville.”
In 1927, Dr. Atkinson was on his way to New York to accept a job offer when he stopped by Coatesville to visit a friend and fellow Howard University Graduate, an Adventist professor named T.J. Anderson. In seeing the needs of Coatesville, he only worked in New York a couple weeks before he went back and help the people of Coatesville. Upon his return, he was unable to practice medicine because he was African American, so he built his own hospital. The hospital is now the community service center that continues to serve the community in numerous ways.
In addition to the commemorative events the town of Coatesville held on January 15, the W.C. Atkinson Community Service Center also hosted a special service day event for the creation of care packages for veterans. Students from area high schools as well as other Coatesville community members joined together in writing encouragement cards, and filling small gift bags with care essentials and hygiene products.
In seeing the students from a couple school districts as well as students from Lincoln University assisting in the care package assembly, Donna Rowland, local area NAACP president observed, “That’s starting the next generation. That's called next generation leaders, and we’re showing them how to be. As community leaders, we have to continue to motivate the people in the community and let them know why it's important. We can't do it alone. So when we come together and we bring our strengths, we bring our resources; that helps make change in our community.”
Walter Murray, a local nurse that also volunteers at the Atkinson Center with assisting in Health Education and men’s support groups said, “I think that based on what Martin Luther King stood for, I think this is a perfect day to show, particularly our veterans, who are particularly homeless as well too, that we just want to give back … on Martin Luther King Day.”
NcNeil reflecting on the day of service said, “MLK Jr. Day is very special in terms of recognizing the times where we were, the progress that has been made; and the opportunity today is all about the opportunity to make a difference going forward … and it foreshadows a dream that Martin Luther King had that together we could make a difference.”