Dorothy Dempsey turned her thoughts Sunday to Martin Luther King by attending Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis as a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. Peter Claver.
The local branch of this Catholic fraternal organization turns out each year to celebrate the life and legacy of the civil rights leader who was born on Jan. 15, 1929, and assassinated on April 4, 1968, when he was 39.
Although Dempsey, who lives in St. Louis, took time Sunday to honor King, for her, following King’s call for service and grassroots organization is something she pursues throughout the year.
As a member of the Catholic Action Network for Social Justice, she works to educate others to break what she calls the “destructive cycle … on people of color,” as a result of incarceration and mandatory sentencing.
What began last year as a five-member book group has grown into something much larger. Under their leadership, more than 125 people gathered on Jan. 12 at the Missouri History Museum to hear a panel of experts talk about the disproportionate rate of incarceration of African Americans, and especially African-American men.
Dempsey’s group took up this particular cause after the book group read “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander.
The session drew a racially mixed crowd that included people who have loved ones in prison and some who were looking for solutions.
“Before reading this book, we were in the dark about this whole situation,” said Dempsey, who is retired. “We were so shocked that we decided to take action.”
Their action plan resulted in the History Museum event that will continue on Feb. 9, when attendees will begin to look for solutions.
The action by Dempsey and her cohorts is just one example of what people around St. Louis are doing to honor King by serving others.
On an even larger scale, the United Way of St. Louis, in partnership with Washington University, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and others this weekend presented a report on civic participation in the St. Louis area and around the state. Overall, Missouri received mostly high marks.
The Civic Health Index report compared residents across the state and nationally along factors such joining community groups, volunteering, donating to charity, gathering regularly for family dinners, contacting public officials, voting and other aspects related to civic health.
The report shows that Missourians are more likely to volunteer than the average American, with the state ranking 15th — 30 percent, compared to to 27 percent nationally. In addition to Saturday’s release of the findings, at Saint Louis University’s Center for Global Citizenship (where King spoke in 1964), attendees had service opportunities, including assembling hygiene kits for people who are homeless. The kits will be distributed by the Homeless Services Division of the city of St. Louis.
This event was also part of the yearlong celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis. The goal is to inspire people to engage in service projects aimed at improving St. Louis communities.
How you can get involved
Catholic Action Network for Social Justice panel discussion
2-4 p.m., Feb. 9
Missouri History Museum
5700 Lindell Blvd.
For more information:
United Way of Greater St. Louis, an affiliate of the Hands on Network
United Way's Volunteer Center connects volunteers to quality volunteer opportunities in the St. Louis community.
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This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. If you have insight to share about what you’re doing to improve your community, please click on the link and become a news source for St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon: How’s your civic health?