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The Fierce Urgency of Now

By Nisma Elias '12 on January 24, 2012 02:42 PM

photo4.JPGThe two Reed vans idled in the light snow outside 28 West as 30 Reed students readied themselves for a day of service. It was Martin Luther King Day and schools, post offices, and banks across America were closed to celebrate the birth, life, and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year Students for Education, Empowerment, and Direct Service (SEEDS) offers a service trip so Reedies can make a difference. This year 43 Reed students, professors, and staff joined more than 800 other college students from across the Portland area to volunteer at Roosevelt High School, explore education as a civil right, and respond to what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now."
Roosevelt High School hosted this year's rally and service projects. Once labeled a failed high school, the North Portland institution is on the rise. Last year 89 percent of its senior class graduated, its highest rate ever.

Anthropology major Amina Rahman '14 has been working with students in Northeast Portland this year. MLK day has traditionally been associated with service and this struck a chord with her. "I felt motivated to use the day in a productive way that would benefit kids like me, who live in my city but face different realities," she says. "School is very much about support, and the idea of bolstering a high school with the help of anonymous college students is super cool, and I think, effective."

The service projects were designed to help the students of Roosevelt feel motivated to take the next step in their education by making them believe they could go to college. I chose to participate on an educational advocacy project where my group and I created inspirational messages to be put on the lockers of each Roosevelt student. Sitting down at the table with my 8 x 10 piece of cardboard paper I didn't see how this was going to be useful. But once I had written down some personal messages and quotes from MLK Jr. about injustice and the right to civil liberty, it dawned on me on how much every little bit helps in terms of motivating high school kids to feel like they can earn a college education. It is more special when they know the messages are from current college students who can feel the benefit of a college education in their lives.

Other Reedies landscaped the high school's lawns, assembled care packages for Roosevelt's alumni and teachers, and prepared Red Cross emergency kits.

"Making a difference comes in different shapes and sizes and begins with some type of education and awareness," says Joy Contreras '12, a political science major. "We will take this experience and transfer it to our friends and families and the greater community."

At the end of the day, we left Roosevelt High School a brighter, cleaner, and hopefully more inspirational place where the students know they deserve to go to college and make their dreams come true by any means possible.