MLK Day of Service returns to Long Beach for 14th year

At Sowing Seeds of Change, an urban farm in Long Beach, about 15 people spent Monday morning and the early afternoon shoveling out mulch, arranging planks of wood and working toward creating a greenhouse and outdoor kitchen space for the nonprofit.

Co-founders Lindsay Smith and Dina Feldman hope that the greenhouse will provide even more vocational opportunities for its young participants and that the kitchen will become a space to educate the community about healthy cooking and plant-based and culturally sensitive recipes.

The efforts at Sowing Seeds of Change were put toward one of 12 community projects scattered throughout Long Beach on Monday for the 14th annual MLK Day of Service hosted by Leadership Long Beach.

“It’s such a significant holiday, and what better way to honor MLK than to actually get back to your community and get back in ways that are generating more good, which is what we’re doing by creating opportunities for young adults with disabilities and foster youth to get vocational training,” Feldman said.

The projects for today’s day of service ranged from putting together care packages for Long Beach’s homeless residents, to writing letters to senior citizens, to collecting school supplies for foster youth students at Cal State Long Beach.

“We tried to really connect to all the different districts and sections of the city,” said Raelene Child, program director for Leadership Long Beach.

While the day of service originally stemmed from Leadership Long Beach’s mission, which is to meaningfully serve the city, the event has since grown into one of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Southern California, Child said.

“Symbolically, it really represents that ‘beloved community’ that Dr. King talked about, where everyone is cared for, and everyone has what they need to thrive, and people are in service to one another,” Mayor Rex Richardson told the Long Beach Post. “So that’s what we’re doing today, and it was great to come out and see so many people excited to continue on the legacy.”

Over at Salon Benders on Fourth Street, around 25 to 30 volunteers focused on beautifying the area by painting flower pots, planting succulents and cleaning up sidewalks and alleyways.

Unlike farther down Fourth Street on Retro Row and other pockets of Long Beach such as Downtown, the area where Salon Benders is situated is relatively unknown and does not have its own business improvement district, said Salon Benders founder and owner Jessica Santiago, who is also one of 33 members of this year’s Leadership Long Beach class.

“There’s 12 businesses right here on this block that no one really knows about. … We don’t even have a city trash can, we don’t have a crosswalk, we don’t get a lot of attention over here,” Santiago said. “The whole purpose of this project itself was originally to draw some attention to this part of the neighborhood, so that way we can maybe get some interest in businesses coming together, create a BID (Business Improvement District) or even having the city come around and giving us a city trash can.”

According to Councilmember Suely Saro, taking action on the day of service is a means to improve local neighborhoods, while ultimately working toward achieving economic justice and racial justice.

“These small steps, these services, add up to big actions collectively,” Saro said.

“What MLK stood for was equity, diversity and inclusion and also being kind, and that’s the biggest thing we’re trying to do,” said Nancy Luong of Leadership Long Beach. “Even if it’s something small like being kind to a stranger on the street, to something big, like a project or helping the community, the main purpose is to really be kind to each other, no matter who you are.”

Jackie Rae contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove a photograph of a volunteer.

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