Acts of kindness do honor to King

Good deeds: Children from Maryland and across the country will be doing "good acts" in the Do Something challenge to recognize the slain civil rights leader's legacy.

January 15, 2000|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Thousands of students across Maryland and the nation will be trying something different for the next two weeks to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: kind and thoughtful behavior.

"I always try to be good, but for these two weeks, I'm going to try really hard," says Kiona Hines, 9, a fourth-grader at Baltimore County's Hebbville Elementary School. "It's important to live the lessons from Dr. King."

Now in its third year, the Do Something Kindness and Justice Challenge aims to encourage children not just to learn about King, but also to learn to live by his ideals of ethical and responsible behavior.

"The objective is to get as many students as possible to do as many acts of kindness and justice as they can," says Martin Luther King III, the slain civil rights leader's eldest son. "If they can do good acts for a day, they can do it for a week, and if they can do it for a week, they can do it for a year, and if they can do it for a year, they can do it for a lifetime.

"We hope this will set the tone for how we want our children to live," says King, who serves as co-chairman of the challenge.

Today would have been his father's 71st birthday, which will be observed as a federal holiday Monday.

Across the country during the next two weeks, children will be performing acts of kindness and justice, coming into classes each day to report what they've done.

Helping friends with homework. Pitching in at home by washing dishes or cleaning their rooms. Telling teachers if they hear of students carrying guns or knives in school. Stopping schoolyard fights.

"I try to teach the children the concept of helping people, and if I see them doing something kind or just, I'll tell them, `You are an MLK kid,' " says Peg Costello, a kindergarten teacher at Worthington Elementary School in Howard County. "It's really a home-school partnership, because we want this to be reinforced in both places."

Participating schools will enter daily updates on a national Web site of the number of kind and just acts done by their students, and King will visit the nation's top school at the end of the two-week challenge.

"My belief is that students will feel a sense of fulfillment and hope," King says. "There have been isolated incidents of violence in our schools in the past few years, and it takes a few good young men and woman to stand up and make a difference."

The number of schools participating in the challenge has grown since it was begun three years ago by the Do Something foundation, a nonprofit youth leadership organization.

The foundation receives support from the Pew Charitable Trusts -- handing out more than $700,000 in grants to young community activists since 1996. One of its founders is actor Andrew Shue.

This year, more than 2.2 million students across the nation are expected to participate in the challenge. As of yesterday, almost 60,000 Maryland students at 268 public and private elementary, middle and high schools had registered to compete in the challenge.

Organizers expect more schools to sign up through the Internet over the weekend, and teachers can download curriculum materials for daily lessons on King.

Last year, students at Kenwood High School in Baltimore County recorded the most acts of kindness and justice in Maryland, finishing 31st nationally.

At Hebbville, pupils have spent much of this month preparing to participate in the challenge and honor King.

"We asked them to write essays earlier in the month about Dr. King and what it means to do acts of kindness and justice," says Hebbville Principal Annie Gordon. "Now, the goal will be for them to put into action what they've learned."

At a series of assemblies this week, Hebbville pupils danced, sang and spoke of King's legacy in both original works and traditional songs. They also were reminded of the challenge they were about to face.

"This isn't just two weeks of thinking about acts of justice and kindness," says fourth-grader Jazsmin Watson, 9. "It's a reminder for how we're supposed to act for a lifetime."

The Web site to register for the Do Something challenge and to track participating schools is www.dosomething.org.

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