Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the keynote speaker of “Religious Witness for Human Dignity,” a multi-faith event held at the Los Angeles Coliseum on May 31, 1964. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

On Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 95th birthday last week, nearly 60 years after he addressed 15,000 Angelenos in a rousing speech on race relations and human dignity at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, local service centered non-profit LA Works organized the “MLK 2024 Volunteer Festival: Take Action to Support Our Beloved Community” at the same site.

On Monday, Jan. 15, hands-on activities were offered for participants to address critical community challenges such as homelessness, education equity, food insecurity and economic opportunity. Upwards of 1,500 attendees gathered to participate, including people of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, beliefs, colors, and creeds.

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LA Works, which was founded in 1990 and has 200 partners throughout L.A., has long honored Dr. King’s legacy in its mission and daily work. Last year, for MLK’s birthday, the organization opened its celebratory efforts to more volunteers, but this year is the organization’s first turning those efforts into a full festival, scaling up to engage the public in a notably dynamic and innovative manner.

Festival attendees make blankets that non-profit Every Day Action will donate to those in need. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

Rachel Niesen, disaster resource coordinator for LA Works, said, “He wanted people to go toward service. With the festival, people are not just celebrating MLK but putting action in to support what MLK stood for.”

More than 15 partnering organizations were present, including Every Day Action, Repair the World and People Assisting The Homeless (PATH).

“The [idea] is to partner with organizations, educate volunteers and then get them working together to build something that can be donated out,” said Niesen.

Activities ranged from blanket-making to hygiene kit assembly to the outfitting of economic binders to support individuals attempting to enter the workforce. Additional stations featured food kits, family volunteering with book bundles, and banned books.

Volunteers recorded their dreams in the spirit of MLK. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

Niesen explained, “The goal is mostly to help people that are disenfranchised. No person is the same [as another]. Needs are going to vary based on their situation, so that’s why we have so many different projects. Not everyone needs a blanket, not everyone needs a food kit. Maybe they need one but not the other.”

At the end of the day, thousands of kits had been assembled. Just as many Angelenos will be helped.

Of those being served, Niesen said, “Short term, hopefully this adds a bit of hope or puts a smile on their face. Long term, we’re building these partnerships, and the more partnerships we build, the more people will want to partner with us. The more resources we can get out there.”

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