This month, many will honor slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with prayer vigils, peace marches and service projects. SS. Columba-Brigid Parish is planning something a little closer to King's vision: building a community.
"What we're doing here is something different," said Father William "Jud" Weiksnar, OFM, pastor of the East Side parish. "We are not against community service. It's a great thing. We all should be doing it. But, on Martin Luther King Day we believe instead of a day of community service, it's more appropriate to do a day of community organizing. That's more what Martin Luther King was about."
Working with the diocesan Office of Cultural Diversity and activist organization Voice-Buffalo, SS. Columba-Brigid will host anyone and everyone interested in building better communities and learning how to address social change.
Professor Barry Gan, of St. Bonaventure University, will kick off the morning with a talk on King.
"We hope to highlight aspects of King that you don't always hear. We almost always hear the 'I Have a Dream' speech, but we want to go beyond 'I Have a Dream,'" said Father Weiksnar.
Pastor James Giles, of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries Inc., will talk about some success stories with local community organization. Back to Basics Outreach Ministries Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing services that improve the quality of life for residents in the city of Buffalo and surrounding communities.
Following the talks, participants will break into small groups to discuss the issues important to them in their neighborhoods.
The day will close with what they are calling, "Community Organizing 101." Members from Voice-Buffalo will teach the basics of community organizing.
"We'll see how those issues that people brought up, how you might use community organizing to get at those kinds of issues," said Father Weiksnar, adding this event is meant as an introduction to the idea of community organizing to gauge the interest in the idea.
Bringing in guest speakers to explain the ins and outs of community building imitates King's method of success: working with experts.
"Many of them had already had a background in community organizing. So, while King himself wasn't what you would consider a typical community organizer, many of the people in the South had done community organizing at their churches, and that allowed him to have a ready-made network or group of people that could put his vision into action," Father Weiksnar explained.
Father Weiksnar has experience with the community-building process. He spent five years in Camden, N.J., at the time the poorest and most dangerous city in the country. During that time, a youth community organization of middle-schoolers formed. Those kids took on projects to improve their neighborhood.
"The great thing about those middle-schoolers was they wouldn't give up," Father Weisknar said. "What they did was they transformed their neighborhood park, which used to have the nickname, 'The World's Most Depressing Park.' They transformed it into a beautiful park that the whole neighborhood can use."
The event will start at 9 a.m. with registration and coffee, juice, doughnuts and bagels. The program begins at 9:30 and ends at noon. SS. Columba-Brigid Church is located at 75 Hickory St., Buffalo 14204.