Naila Bolus is President & CEO of Jumpstart.
With the dawn of the New Year, I am especially inspired by the holiday we celebrate this month – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. MLK Day is a “day on, not a day off” when millions of people come together in service and dialogue. It is a time to reflect on and honor the legacy of Dr. King, and to highlight the power each one of us has to make a difference.
When I lived in San Francisco, one of my favorite places to go was the MLK Memorial Waterfall in Yerba Buena Park. Excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches are etched in glass behind a thundering waterfall, and when you walk behind the falls you are completely overcome by the deafening sound, matched only by the power of the words. My favorite quote is at the end: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I wonder what Dr. King would say today? In his last few years he talked more and more of economic equality as “genuine equality.” He spent his last birthday, January 15, 1968, working on the “Poor People’s Campaign,” an effort to demand jobs, a fair wage and education to resolve the problem of poverty for people of all races.
For all the progress we have made, we cannot be satisfied when 82% of fourth graders from low-income families fail to reach the “proficient” level in reading (according to a report published this year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation). These same children are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma. “No, no, we are not satisfied.”
Jumpstart honors the legacy of Dr. King each time we change – even in some small way – the life of a child or a Corps member.
Each and every day I’m marveled by the power of the relationships we build at Jumpstart, the connections we make. Each day, our staff provide support to Corps members, which literally changes lives: a Corps member who would have dropped out of school were it not for Jumpstart; another whose stipend was the only income to support her family when her mother was dying from cancer. Jumpstart empowers these Corps members to become leaders and teachers of early education, but also to become better professionals, better parents.
Alyssa Nittolo, a Jumpstart Site Manager at Montclair State University in New Jersey, recently shared some of her reflections. “My Corps members motivate me,” she said. “The Corps members who I hired in their freshman year, who I have literally seen grow up before my eyes. The Corps members who represent the community we serve. The Corps members who learn what it means to have a job through Jumpstart. The Corps members who apply what they learn in training to their outside life. The Corps members who devote 300 hours of their busy lives to serve a classroom of young preschool children, despite having two other jobs. The job is certainly a challenging one at times. But because of our Corps members and the impression they make on the children, it is such a rewarding one.”
This is the work Dr. King inspired. As we celebrate his legacy this month, we rededicate ourselves to his dream of social justice and opportunity for all.