Interfaith Volunteers Build Understanding, Homes on MLK Day

By Paula Katrina Drago

Last weekend thousands of Americans chose not to hit the snooze button, run errands, or relax at home, and instead took time to serve their communities in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They are a reminder that MLK Day is not simply a federal holiday or another day off, but also a National Day of Service.  Among those who answered the call to serve were members of an interfaith partnership between the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, the Bethesda Jewish Congregation and Idara-e-Jaferia Islamic Center who worked with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC to build affordable housing in the Northeast neighborhood of Ivy City.

This interfaith partnership began in 1964, when Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church and Bethesda Jewish Congregation began sharing the same worship space in a building in Bethesda, MD, and recognized the importance of encouraging communication between the two congregations by exchanging ideas, sharing meals, and coming together to foster understanding. After the attacks of September 11, both reached out to include a local mosque in their partnership, and were connected with the Idara-e-Jaferia Islamic Center, in Burtonsville, MD—a mosque that was looking to create an interfaith connection.

Throughout the year, the three congregations come together to celebrate holidays, study with spiritual leaders, discuss books and films, share in potluck dinners, and serve together to build affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC.  The group has volunteered with DC Habitat for more than  four years.

Volunteers began the day by reflecting on the importance of service to Dr. King’s legacy and listening to excerpts from his 1968 speech, “The Drum Major Instinct.” They came together with current and former AmeriCorps Members, local volunteers, and future Habitat homebuyers to install interior trim and siding and remove trash and debris from the neighborhood.  People from all walks of life came together to work alongside one another, letting differences like socioeconomic backgrounds, race, age, and faith fall by the wayside. Their hard work and the work of hundreds of other Habitat volunteers has enabled the building of new, energy-efficient, and affordable houses in Ivy City.  Because of this dedication to MLK’s call for service, the soon-to-be-homeowners will move into structures that are more than simply houses, but homes within a caring and committed neighborhood.

In his memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott, Stride Toward Freedom: the Montgomery Story, Dr. King wrote, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”  DC Habitat’s MLK Day volunteers embodied the example of Dr. King by refusing to allow their differences to separate them, and by coming together to share commonalities and build a more unified, tolerant, and empowered community.

DC Habitat believes that everyone deserves a house they want to call home. That's why we work to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness in the nation's capital by building (and rehabilitating) affordable, energy- and resource-efficient homes for people in need.