Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King envisioned a world in which people of all backgrounds could work side by side toward a common goal.

That’s why Greater D.C. Cares yesterday, on the civil rights leader’s birthday, organized a beautification project at Lemon G. Hine Junior High School in Southeast.

The nonprofit service organization enlisted volunteers throughout the area to brighten the learning environment for the school’s 400 students.

The event was one of thousands of service projects across the country commemorating the life of the civil rights leader through the Martin Luther King Day of Service.

“I can’t think of a better place than our nation’s capital to live out Dr. King’s vision for the country,” D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said during opening remarks to about 350 volunteers.

Siobhan Canty, president and chief executive officer of Greater D.C. Cares, said the goal of yesterday’s event — along with the organization’s other service projects — is twofold: to make a difference through hands-on labor and begin a dialogue among diverse volunteers.

“It’s an opportunity to come together and learn about each other,” Ms. Canty said. “We always have to remember that Dr. King’s legacy is racial equality and social justice.”

Yesterday’s volunteers came from Target, Marriott International Inc., AmeriCorps, area schools and other service groups.

Washington Capitals players Bryan Muir and John Erskine, despite recent injuries, also helped out.

Some Hine students participated — raking leaves and re-painting the school’s red front doors.

“It’s a good way to help out and do something with your time,” freshman Alexus Burgess said.

The national service day’s motto is, after all, “a day on, not a day off.”

About 30 students from the Catholic University of America also volunteered.

The students, with Susan D. Pervi, the university’s vice president for student life, cleaned up one of the school’s stairwells, wiping down railings and putting a coat of white paint over the yellowing walls.

“Catholic students have a disposition to do service,” Mrs. Pervi said.

Other groups painted classrooms and restrooms and cleaned windows.

A beautification project also was under way at Cardozo Senior High School in Northwest, which drew a surprise visit from President Bush.

Mr. Bush, in rolled-up shirt sleeves, walked along a corridor and chatted with the volunteers, including U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

Mr. Bush borrowed a paint brush dabbed in red ink, then carefully colored in the “B” of a stenciled drawing of Ben’s Chili Bowl. The local eatery is known for its chili dogs and its rich history, including surviving the riots after King’s assassination.

“Getting the drift of this thing here?” a smiling Mr. Bush asked as he painted, seeking approval of his technique. Volunteers nodded.

Elsewhere in the District yesterday, hundreds participated in a “peace walk” honoring King.

The walk began at the “Big Chair” landmark in Anacostia and ended at Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest, which hosted a worship service.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty attended the memorial march and hosted a musical tribute at the University of the District of Columbia in King’s honor.

During the tribute, Mr. Fenty presented the “Living the Dream” awards to the D.C. Boys Choir and to Hal Jackson, a member of the Radio Hall of Fame who became the first black radio sports announcer when he began calling baseball games for Howard University and the Negro Baseball League.

Mr. Jackson also broke color barriers when he began hosting a nightly interview program on local station WINX in 1939.

Gary Emerling contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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