School improvement projects help mark Martin Luther King Day

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National Archive/Newsmakers

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the background March 18, 1966 at the White House.

Dirt was turned at several Los Angeles Unified School District campuses today as volunteers installed gardens as part of a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"One of the most important messages of the life and legacy of Dr. King was service – service to the country," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

Villaraigosa was among the workers preparing an area of an athletic field at George Washington Carver Middle School in South Los Angeles for a Mediterranean garden. Apple trees were being planted along the school's perimeter, and other landscaped areas were being mulched and weeded.

The earth was also turned at Braddock Elementary School in Culver City and at Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester, while various projects were undertaken on a newly constructed school garden at Micheltorena Elementary School in Silver Lake.

More than 1,000 volunteers under the auspices of the volunteer center L.A. Works visited Rosemont Elementary School in Echo Park to paint murals, create a reading nook in the library and a game room, construct planter benches in a new literacy garden and beautify a school garden.

Supporters of Organizing for America, a grassroots project of the Democratic National Committee promoting President Barack Obama's agenda, cleaned and planted a community garden at Crenshaw High School and donated blood at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Santa Monica's four-day observance of King's legacy concluded with a celebration at the SGI-USA Auditorium, 525 Wilshire Blvd. The multiethnic interfaith program included inspirational readings, speakers, musical performances and a presentation of scholarships.

The keynote speaker was Val Zavala, the anchor of KCET-TV Channel 28's "SoCal Connected" and the station's vice president of news and public affairs.

Later today, Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, will be among the honorees at the 34th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration hosted by Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first celebrated as a federal holiday in 1986 under a law signed by then-President Ronald Reagan. King and George Washington are the only Americans with federal holidays celebrating their birth.

King's activism in marches and speeches, most famously the "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, helped foster the passage of civil rights laws and end segregation.

In 1964, at the age of 35, King became the youngest person up to that time to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., at the age of 39.

"Dr. King's legacy has given us the power to organize, to mobilize, to energize and to be the change we need," said Villaraigosa, who will designate the day as the Martin Luther King Day of Service in Los Angeles, mirroring a nationwide call by Obama.

"His legacy lives on through our struggle to ensure that every child of any color from any neighborhood can grow up in a peaceful environment with countless opportunities for a successful future."

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