On January 20, 2014, about 150 volunteers joined Urban Releaf for its sixth annual MLK Day of Service, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The volunteers—including large groups from Clorox Corporation, Old Oakland Neighbors, Montclair Middle School, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, Service for Peace, Public Allies, and Girl Scoup Troop #17–were treated to a gorgeous, sunny day in Oakland, which was unseasonably warm for January. A perfect day, as it turned out, for tree-planting; by mid-afternoon, 40 street trees — Chinese Pistache, Ginko Biloba, Aristocrat, and Sycamore — had been added to Oakland’s downtown/Old Oakland neighborhood!
As with many past Urban Releaf events, the tree-planting began with an invocation and ceremonial dance from Aztek dancers, representing the nature-oriented ideology of indigenous peoples. Sage was burned, then the dancers shook, shimmied, and stomped, facing all four directions.
Tree-planting crews then fanned out into the various locations, some carting wheelbarrels and buckets piled high with mulch, others toting shovels. The volunteers got right down to business as Cal-FIRE’s Jimi Scheid and landscaping consultant Rosemary Allen oversaw the proceedings. Meanwhile, Urban Releaf’s tree stewards drove from location to location in their big white truck, distributing trees and planting stakes, and lending a hand when necessary. Many volunteers brought their kids, who had a great time digging holes and shoveling mulch.
At one Old Oakland location, a storeowner watched the proceedings with interest, remarking how thankful she was to have new trees planted on the street. In addition to all the service organizations, many local community residents joined in, as did several notables: ex-Public Works employee Jim Ryugo, Councilperson-at-large Rebecca Kaplan, just-announced Mayoral candidate Dan Siegel and his Communications Director Cat Brooks, and Madame Mayor herself, Jean Quan.
By 2 pm, almost all the trees had been planted. Just then, a KGO-TV crew arrived to film the event for a segment on volunteering on MLK Day. Urban Releaf was featured prominently in the segment, which quoted volunteer Deaunte Jackson, who said, “it means a lot to me to know I’m making a difference in this way.” Reporter Lyanne Melendez then noted that the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday “dedicated to giving something back to the community.”
Community engagement was certainly the order of the day. At the end of the event, the Public Allies group formed a large circle; everyone talked about what they learned from the experience. One group member vowed to return to the site in the future, so he can check the progress of the tree he helped to plant.
A big thanks to all the volunteers, service organizations and community groups who helped make this year’s MLK Day of Service special.