Recently I volunteered to read for kids at Bryant Elementary School and Shodair Children’s Hospital here in Helena.  I personally never thought that I would be one day reading to a classroom full of kids, but I am glad that I was able to. It’s remarkable to me how within 6 months of my service term I was able to go from just barely being able to speak in front of others to reading to a class full of kids not only once, but twice on two separate days in service for Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK). I went on to read alongside another VISTA on both occasions about Martin Luther King Jr., a man who was instrumental in helping get numerous important laws passed through Congress and promoting racial equity among U.S citizens. Since many of those events took place down South, with many events taking place within Alabama, I was also able to mention additional information and neat facts that were a little outside of what I was reading. I liked doing this because to me, it added some authenticity and stressed the importance of what he had accomplished and fought for. It was an honor to read and speak about a man who not only left a huge impact on the United States, but also left a major impact on the state of Alabama that is still echoed today as I type this.

At Bryant Elementary, I went on to not only read about him alongside another VISTA, but also draw alongside the kids with the drawing assignment to be something related to unity and fairness. I didn’t finish my own drawing, but I got to see the work of the kids which brought back some memories of the art fairs that were hosted when I was growing up. Later on at Shodair, I volunteered again for MLK Day to read about Martin Luther King Jr. to kids alongside another VISTA, as well as present footage from his speeches. What was noticeable to me was Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” was listed to play last, which to me was historically significant because during the March on Washington in 1963 he was the among last to speak, being sixteenth out of eighteen other speakers that day in history. I felt that by having his most famous speech presented last, not only did it expose the kids in the room to his other speeches that he had wrote but it was also a nice homage to that day in history.

It was nice to be able to volunteer because I felt it gave the day more relevance with me being an Alabama native speaking about one of the most important movements that had ever occurred within Alabama state history. The day also served as a reminder of what I and other VISTAs can potentially accomplish with time and diligence, no matter where we are located and even after our service terms are over. I hope that one day after my service term is done, I can speak and be a leader in fighting poverty, just as Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader in the fight against poverty.

Steven Mann
PRC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Montana No Kid Hungry
Helena, MT