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January 17, 2017

The Morton McMichael School in West Philadelphia

The organizers of the Morton McMichael School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day makeover event weren’t sure how many volunteers to expect. Their only concern on Monday was having enough people show up to help paint the doors throughout the school, brightening them up to match its vibrant exterior. As the volunteers started pouring in shortly before 9 a.m. — including Drexel students, staff and faculty, Mantua community members, and McMichael families — it quickly became clear that the neighborhood turnout had exceeded expectations.

In all, more than 200 volunteers filled the school’s hallways, turning the day of service into an impressive show of community support. Christian Edge, who works closely with McMichael and Drexel’s other partner schools as director of K-12 school work in the School of Education, said the crowd that packed the auditorium waiting for instructions was “an embarrassment of riches.”

For McMichael’s Assistant Principal Dollette Johns, whose request to Edge for help with the doors sparked Monday’s event, seeing a room full of people eager to pitch in was a powerful moment.

“It was very inspiring, knowing that folks really want to help, especially today, especially in a school that’s housed in an area where we need support,” said Johns.

The event at McMichael was one of several volunteer opportunities that Drexel supported on MLK Day, including a family read-along and book giveaway at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships and an event in which the Lindy Center, the Thomas R. Kline School of Law and the Veterans Group worked to provided supplies and services to homeless veterans. The Lindy Center and Janeile Johnson, its assistant director for strategic initiatives, were integral to the success of McMichael’s makeover, Edge said.

In addition to sprucing up the school with a blue-and-yellow paint job, volunteers cleaned up closets and the library and organized educational material to give teachers a hand preparing for class. Johns said the changes should go a long way toward making the school a welcoming home to its students — and if the day of service encourages them to think about what they can do themselves, all the better.

“For them to come in tomorrow and see brightness on the door, I think that changes their perception,” said Johns. “And then we can talk it up a little more and say, ‘Hey, this is what we did for you guys,’ to get them to participate as well.”

Edge said he hopes Monday’s event can serve as a “jumping-off point” for the school and the community to continue to make progress in the future. He envisioned the day of service as an initiation to working in the school, to show everyone coming through McMichael’s doors that Mantua isn’t a “scary neighborhood” despite what they might hear, and that the school’s students need as much support as they can get.

“Not only do schools have a funding deficit, a resource deficit — they have a love deficit,” said Edge. “So it’s important that they know they are loved and people care about them.”

As volunteers shared pizza following the day’s activities, Principal Brian Wallace closed the event by reciting the final lines from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A few minutes later, Edge reflected on the abundant support the school had received, exceeding his expectations.

“I just wanted the doors painted,” he said with a glimmer in his eyes, “and the doors were painted.”