A Day On, Not a Day Off

Continuing Teamwork of the National Wildlife Federation, the West Atlanta Watershed and The Outdoor Activity Center

Back in 2002, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was gaining momentum as the first of its kind service holiday, and it was dubbed nationwide as “A Day On, Not a Day Off” by the National Corporation on Community service.

That year was significant because, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the philanthropy of corporations and private donors dried up, with many choosing to err on the side of caution with their finances. Many large non-profit organizations were threatened, and many smaller ones simply closed their doors for good, including Atlanta’s Outdoor Activity Center (the OAC). Too often, facilities like the OAC – home to over 30 acres of urban forest in the black community – simply vanish to be wiped out by urban sprawl or waste dumping.

That same year, a young black man from Morehouse College – the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – took the bold step to adopt the OAC through the City of Atlanta’s Park Pride program. At Morehouse, he’d learned the importance of community service and right after graduation, joined AmeriCorps national community service program. He helped to start the Office of Community service at Morehouse and became vested in the work at the OAC for the decade before its closing. When the facility closed down, he took the leap of faith to keep it viable for the community and as a champion of environmental justice.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Earth Tomorrow Atlanta (NWF ET-ATL) program came to the OAC in 2002 and met the man who adopted the park. He provided team-building orientation for the group. The West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), a legacy partner in the community for years playing an integral role in leadership training around environmental justice and environmental stewardship, welcomed the opportunity to partner with these new faces full of optimism and hope. That year, an alliance began that has held fast through this day and benefited multiple generations of students.

A Tradition of Service

family participating in community clean up
Brendon BJ Barclay ET Alum, Lynn Barclay, Bryce Barclay ET currently, Brendon BLA Barclay,
Brelyn Barclay ET Alum. Credit: Earth Tomorrow Atlanta

The effects of that alliance continued to show this past summer when the NWF ET-ATL program began celebrating its 20th anniversary with the 20th annual ET-ATL Summer Institute.

During the Summer institute, WAWA leads the youth of ET-ATL both in enlightenment – educating them about the issues — and in the application providing a service project.

The summer service project which often includes stream clean-up — living up the name “Watershed Alliance” is a bookend to the winter service project that starts off the year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“Many people recognize Dr. King for his many contributions to social justice, the civil rights movement, and equality, but we use this day to honor the seeds he planted (no pun intended) that sprung the environmental justice movement.”

Crystal Jennings, national director of youth leadership programs, National Wildlife Federation

In the years since Crystal made that statement about the 2018 MLK Day of Service at the OAC, over 200 registered volunteers participate annually in activities that include the removal of invasive plants, gutter installation for the aquaponic system, shrub and trash removal, plantings, and trail maintenance at the 30+ acre urban nature preserve.

students participating in river clean up
Earth Tomorrow students at river clean up. Credit: Earth Tomorrow Atlanta

Oh, and the man who adopted the Outdoor Activity Center? That’s me, Brendon L. A. Barclay, the National Wildlife Federation’s new Manager of Education and Engagement Programs (Georgia). MLK Day 2022 marks my 9th month in this role, and the opportunity to continue to grow this is like a new birth to a life-long dream. This year, I am excited to continue a tradition of service I’ve helped lead since its beginning, continuing to support a facility integral to Metro Atlanta, where every week, families from the surrounding community take advantage of the trails, interpretive hikes, a ropes course, and a nature-themed playground.