Shortly after joining the Repair the World team as its Pittsburgh director, I was asked by our national staff about our volunteering plans for MLK Day. After all, MLK Day is a national service day and Repair the World plays a key role in mobilizing Jews around the country to serve on this day.
I was intrigued to discover that in my sister Repair cities (New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore), thousands of volunteers come out to serve on MLK Day, while in Pittsburgh organizations like the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, the Union Project and the East End Cooperative Ministry have made it into a day of meaningful community dialogue and celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. I so admire the community leaders who have built this culture of dialogue in Pittsburgh. My vision is to build on this work and to use these conversations as the starting point for taking action and improving local communities through service.
When I was a tax attorney and my work life didn’t align with my values, I found meaning in service. Good service can be powerful — for both the volunteer and the community. We deserve to have this culture in Pittsburgh. At Repair we work to build the capacity of our service and community partners, such as Higher Achievement, Grow Pittsburgh and 412 Food Rescue, through volunteer recruitment. Our goal is to help our partners more deeply and more efficiently pursue their social missions. While we want volunteers to have good experiences, volunteering isn’t about making the volunteer feel good. That emotion is just a great side benefit. Rather, volunteering is about working with people and organizations to reduce and hopefully eliminate inequalities in the world. If we have the privilege and the capacity to serve, then we must. King said that everyone can be great because anybody can serve. If we want Pittsburgh to be a place of opportunity for all, then we have to serve.
We have to be allies to those who don’t have the same privileges that we do. We have to work with people and communities that don’t look like “us.” As Rabbi Tarfon said in Pirkei Avot, “It is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”
We are part of this world and, as King said, we can all be great. With the words of these two great thinkers in mind, I ask each of you to give your time, to serve, to give back. Come and Repair the World with us. Mentor a child in one of our after-school programs and build important relationships. Work in a garden where the produce benefits a food pantry. Rescue food and contribute directly to those who don’t have enough. This work is just and right. We came together last month to honor King’s legacy. But to truly honor this legacy in the way he would have envisioned, then we must commit ourselves to this work every day. In Pittsburgh, we can lead every single day of the year, devoting ourselves to making change and to making our community a better place for all.
Zack Block is director of Repair the World Communities in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at email@example.com.