Germantown Friends Middle School Principal Ken Aldridge and daughter Mariah bead bracelets and necklaces for homeless girls at Germantown’s Covenant House. (Photo by Laura Jamieson)

by Meg Cohen Ragas

On Monday, Jan. 21, more than 450 people turned up at Germantown Friends School to participate in the 18th annual Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Children and adults volunteered for 31 service projects, both on and off campus, ranging from creating books-on-tape for the Philadelphia Reads Literacy Program to assembling and decorating snack bags for children in Germantown after-school programs to using lathes in the school’s woodshop to turn wooden bowls for the Northwest Interfaith Hospitality Network’s Empty Bowl Dinner. A popular new project this year was handcrafting catnip toys for Philadoptables, an organization that supports families who are struggling to provide care for their pets.

“What’s unique about our MLK Day service and celebration is the diversity of the people who show up,” says Kathy Paulmier, Director of Community Involvement at GFS and the head organizer of the day’s events. “We had Pre-K through twelfth-grade students, parents, faculty, staff and neighbors from Penn-Knox and Wister. We had students from PAFA, Girl Scouts, Meeting members, alumni, even parents of students who’ve already graduated. We truly lived out Dr. King’s message of community building.”

An inspired addition to this year’s program was the Bayard Rustin Centennial Celebration, a community gathering, teach-in and discussion honoring the social justice- and gay-rights activist who was a close advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. The two-hour afternoon presentation included a medley of African American spirituals, a screening of clips from the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin and a discussion led by a panel of scholars—Imani Perry of Princeton University, Erica Dunbar of the University of Delaware and Lorrin Thomas of Rutgers (all GFS parents)—who offered historical insight into the life and work of Rustin.

“It was wonderful to give recognition to one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement,” said Paulmier, “who happened to be African American, Quaker, openly gay, and the mastermind behind the 1963 March on Washington.”