Civil rights

As Ally, As Leader: The Modern Civil Rights Legacy

By Tykeem McCord, 2021-2022 Public Allies Central Florida Participant

“Change does not happen on the wheels of inevitability,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “but comes through continuous struggle.”

In recent years, more and more Americans have acknowledged this legacy by using Martin Luther King, Jr. Day not as a “day off,” but as a “work day”—a chance to start a conversation. about our community’s challenges, working together to share solutions, and reinforcing Dr. King’s belief in building a better world through civic engagement, political activism and charitable service.

It’s also what Public Allies Central Florida, a social justice organization led by Adopt solutions for families, is to train the leaders of tomorrow to shape the future. In the Allies program, young people passionate about creating change can hone their skills while working on high-impact projects.

Public Allies had a big influence on me personally. Growing up in Tampa, I became interested in advocacy at a young age, served on the board of my undergraduate NAACP, and went door-to-door as a canvasser. After graduating, I was at a crossroads until I came across this program, which gave me the opportunity to work with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County.

My apprenticeship with the Legal Aid Society of OCBA, Inc. in Orlando allows me to work directly with families in need, while learning the ropes of volunteer supervision and administration. It also inspired me to pursue my master’s degree in nonprofit management and public administration.

Of course, not everyone builds their career around advocacy. But as Dr. King once said, “Anyone can be great, because anyone can serve.” From homelessness to access to health care, there are no shortage of challenges facing Central Florida, but neither are the ways to make a difference.

A few ways to make a difference

Turn to your talents. If you’re a writer, write a blog or newsletter about a cause you care about. If you have a knack for graphic design, create infographics and share them online. Whatever your skills or resources, there is a way to use them to support worthwhile initiatives in the community.

Choose a cause that is close to your heart. Perhaps you feel driven to increase access to mental health care, or perhaps you are inspired to mentor young adults. No matter where your passion takes you, there are many different service industries in Central Florida that can benefit from your support, so don’t hesitate to step up.

Engage more, not less. Do you know who your elected officials are and how to hold them accountable? What about elections in your area? Or what issues does your community face? If not, take the time to push for change. Non-partisan groups like Common cause make it easier to find this information online.

Help others get involved. Many people simply aren’t aware of the issues plaguing our community – or if they are, they don’t know how best to help or what they can do to make a real difference. By spreading awareness about the challenges facing Central Floridians, you can give friends and family a chance to make a positive impact.

The significance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is still apparent in our country today, as many communities are divided along political lines and dogmatic mindsets. But I’ve seen with my own eyes how even the smallest gesture of compassion can fill a person’s day with joy, change their perspective, or broaden their view of the world. Service is not a one-way street; it is a mutual journey towards understanding.

If this sounds like you, consider learning more about programs like Public Allies by visiting the website at PublicAllies.org/CentralFlorida and LegalAidOCBA.org. After all, there’s no “wrong way” to give back to the community, and there’s no contribution too small to make a difference. It’s about doing what you can, when you can, and empowering others to do their part too.

Tykeem McCord, 21, is currently participating in the 2021-2022 cohort of Public Allies of Central Florida and serves as the Assistant Volunteer Child Advocate Coordinator at the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc.