MLK Day 2017: Breaking Barriers in the Bronx

From a peace march in the Bay Area to a city clean up in Bridgeport, buildOn students across the country honored Dr. King’s legacy by serving their communities on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And in the Bronx, buildOn students had Dr. King’s peaceful activism in mind as they teamed up with the NYPD to canvass the community and promote peace.

“Today really showcases the power of our voices and the power of our youth to change our community,” buildOn Service Learning Program Coordinator Meira Keil said of the project. “It is really amazing to have buildOn students come together to talk to community members. The only way to bridge any gap or to break down any barrier is to start with a conversation, to talk to each other.”

buildOn students from New York City joined forces with members of the NYPD to first discuss violence in the Bronx, and the two groups came together to think of ways to advocate for peace in the community. Students and police then canvassed the Bronx together with group-generated questions in an effort to speak to community members about violence and hear their thoughts. The goal of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day project was to promote peace and make change.


Above: An NYPD officer speaks with buildOn students about violence in New York City at the School for Hospitality and Tourism in the Bronx.

This peace project comes at an important time in America, especially for communities like the South Bronx. The New York Times recently detailed the tension and distrust that exists between residents of the Bronx and the police in an article published on December 31, 2016, writing: “…in the South Bronx, as in so many predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods like it in the United States, the contract between the police and the community is in tatters.”

A more trusting relationship between members of the community and the police is needed in the Bronx, as it suffers from having the highest rate of violent crime of the five New York boroughs but the thinnest detective staffing. By involving members of the community and the NYPD, buildOn students are encouraging the start of what some would argue is a much needed conversation.

“The best part of service today was getting people’s opinions about their community and hearing how they can begin to take a stand against violence,” said Mohamad Alawis, a sophomore buildOn student at the School for Tourism and Hospitality. “Not a lot of people just go up to people [on the street] and ask them about their community. If we do this more often, more people would have their ideas heard.”


Above: buildOn student Christopher Espinao, a junior at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, talks to a community member in the Bronx as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day project.

But buildOn students didn’t just listen to Bronx community members, they also took notes on what community members were saying and asked them to commit to peace by signing their name to a peace pledge. At the end of the project, students were hopeful about the impact the project had on the community. “It actually felt really nice to talk to members of the community,” buildOn student Christopher Espinao said. “You could say for once that us young kids are making a change.”

By serving on on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as on Saturdays and weekdays throughout the school year, our students have once again embodied the best of Dr. King’s legacy. buildOn students prove time and time again that, as Dr. King once said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.”

Below: NYPD Officer Matthew Velger speaks with students before canvassing the Bronx with buildOn students. “I learned that you guys have really good listening skills and you really care about this place,” Officer Velger said.