As part of their commemoration, on January 15, 2024, Coatesville, Pennsylvania, residents and guests celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a march through town, stopping at various points to commemorate different aspects of the Civil Rights movement. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

North America

W.C. Atkinson Memorial Community Service Center Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day Through Act of Service

Adventist center of influence in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in partnership with other organizations, renovates homes for veterans in need

Columbia Md., United States | Pieter Damsteegt

The city of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day a bit differently this year. Celebrations began with an Edmund Pettus Bridge reenactment, where individuals from the community united and marched through town, stopping at various points to commemorate different aspects of the civil rights movement, especially surrounding the events of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

In honor of the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Coatesville leadership, with strong support from the community, banded together to carry on the legacy of King by not only speaking about change, justice, and advocacy, but also by emphasizing the day of service and providing ample opportunities to serve.

As a tribute to King’s housing initiative, which he began in November 1967, the W.C. Atkinson Memorial Community Service Center, an Adventist center of influence, in partnership with many other organizations, including Good Works and Adventist Community Services (ACS), started a home renovation project on January 2, 2024, with a goal of completion by MLK Day. This is the sixth home renovation project in Coatesville spearheaded by the W.C. Atkinson Center. These homes are provided for unhoused veterans in the community and have been a blessing to the city of Coatesville for years.

“It is a very difficult job to gut a house and try to get it back together in the short space of time that we did … It was not anything of my own doing that I would take on this project, but I believe that God will be able to sustain us as we go through with it,” explained Walter Harris, house renovation project director. “And He brought some awesome volunteers to work with us and kept us going in the demolition of it—and then the next part of it [in] putting it back together.”

During the afternoon of Coatesville MLK Day celebrations, there was a soft opening and open house for the renovation project as a celebration of what God had done in the substantial progress toward the complete home renovation project.

Being the Change

Minnie McNeil, former ACS director for the Columbia Union Conference and current vice president for the W.C. Atkinson Center, stated, “We are intentional about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day [through] service here in Coatesville because there were so many instances [of] disparity. There was racism here in Coatesville.”

In 1927, Dr. Whittier Atkinson was on his way to New York to accept a job offer when he stopped by Coatesville to visit a friend and fellow Howard University graduate, an Adventist professor named T.J. Anderson. In seeing the needs of Coatesville, he only worked in New York a couple weeks before he went back and helped the people of Coatesville. Upon his return, he was unable to practice medicine because he was African American, so he built his own hospital. The hospital is now the community service center that continues to serve Coatesville in numerous ways.

Special Delivery

In addition to the commemorative events Coatesville held on January 15, the W.C. Atkinson Center also hosted a special service day event for the creation of care packages for veterans. Students from area high schools and other Coatesville community members joined together in writing encouragement cards and filling small gift bags with care essentials and hygiene products.

In seeing the students from a couple school districts as well as those from Lincoln University assisting in the care package assembly, Donna Rowland, local area NAACP president, observed, “That’s starting the next generation. That's called ‘next generation leaders,’ and we’re showing them how to be. As community leaders, we have to continue to motivate the people in the community and let them know why it's important. We can't do it alone. So when we come together and we bring our strengths, we bring our resources, that helps make change in our community.”

Walter Murray, a local nurse who also volunteers at the Atkinson Center with assisting in health education and men’s support groups, said, “I think that based on what Martin Luther King stood for, I think this is a perfect day to show, particularly our veterans, who are particularly homeless as well, too, that we just want to give back … on Martin Luther King Day.”

NcNeil, reflecting on the day of service, said, “MLK Jr. Day is very special in terms of recognizing the times where we were, the progress that has been made; and the opportunity today is all about the opportunity to make a difference going forward … and it foreshadows a dream that Martin Luther King had that together, we could make a difference.”

Adventist Community Services - Coatesville Pennsylvania Home Renovation Project from NAD Adventist on Vimeo.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division website.

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