Civic Engagement

Communities thrive where citizens are civically engaged.

Civic education is about learning to be a difference-maker. We engage civically when we speak up to the school board, write an elected official, work with neighbors on a local improvement project, understand and debate current events, and prepare to be an informed voter.

The foundation of good citizenship is good character.

For democracy to thrive, we need citizens who care about the common good. We need people who are community-minded, and willing to invest their time and efforts in helping others. We need people who have strong values and open minds. And we need people who have the grit to overcome obstacles.

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By providing opportunities to engage and inspire diverse emerging leaders, we can teach – and students can learn – the behaviors and habits that help overcome injustice and division, and create thriving communities. These are skills that will also help students have meaningful, successful lives.

Working Together to Strengthen Civic Engagement

Please consider being a part of the To Us You Matter: VOTE efforts! Here’s what you can do:

  • Identify school personnel, administrators, teachers or counselors in your local schools who want to promote civic education. Send us their contact information and we will reach out!
  • Talk with community based organizations, faith based groups, unions, neighborhood councils and identify roles that young people can take to be civically engaged in local problem solving. Send us contact information to help strengthen the local network of opportunities.
  • Use your voice, spend time in local community problem solving or voter education and registration efforts.
  • Help us create a relationships offering effective strategies and ideas, and contribute to emerging research about how to keep improving civic education for all students.
  • Call on us if you need help to establish a voter registration program, or help designing curriculum and gathering resources for your local schools.

California Youth and Family Civic Engagement Initiative

Everyone benefits when young people are civically engaged.

This dynamic partnership promotes best practices from two of our state’s exemplary rural and urban civic engagement organizing efforts—the Martin Luther King Jr Freedom Center, in Oakland and the Dolores Huerta Foundation, in Bakersfield. 

When it comes to civic engagement, we know all lot about what urban and rural America share in common.  We know that a lack of citizen engagement means the status quo wins.  We also know that a lack of civic engagement directly fuels major hurdles and obstacles in our day-today lives:

  • recidivism
  • truancy
  • unemployment rates
  • food deserts
  • health and mental health gaps
  • homelessness
  • disruptive social affiliations
  • decaying streets and infrastructure

These indices lead to mistrust in government and the relationships and mechanisms available for community based problem solving.

The California Youth and Family Civic Engagement Initiative connects young people with solutions to these perplexing realities. The benefits and merits of voting, volunteering, serving and taking on an active role in community problem solving are well documented. They extend from positive impacts on social-emotional learning, self-esteem, public speaking, team-building skills, and academic achievement on the personal level, into the broader fabric of community: stronger participation, inclusion, cooperation, and equity—basic tenants of democracy.

Cohort members will participate in:

  • civics classes and trainings during all school breaks
  • out-of-school civic engagement leadership classes
  • on-going school and home visits
  • cultural leadership exchanges
  • public speaking
  • participation in civic projects in collaboration with community-based organizations and local agencies
  • intensive residential school break and summer programming

Throughout the year, the students and their families participate in civic engagement initiatives of their choice which include activities and campaigns such as community health and safety issues, community infrastructure, food and water access, electoral enfranchisement and voter registration, climate change, and equity in our schools---school to civic engagement pipeline activities.

If you are interested in learning more about the Initiative, have young people or organizations you would like to be involved, or to have our young people visit your community, give our offices a call today at
510-434-3988!

Public Speaking

As an expression of the civic engagement and advocacy work at the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, our staff and students are available for speaking engagements on a wide range of community engagement and organizing themes. Please contact our office today if you are interested in a speaker visiting your school, faith institution, work site or other community gathering!

For more information please contact:

Dr. Karen Bohlke, Director Government and External Relations Martin Luther King Jr Freedom Center
Karen@mlkfreedomcenter.org
www.mlkfreedomcenter.org
w: 510-434-3988

To Us You Matter: VOTE

To Us You Matter: VOTE is a west coast collaboration between the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, Oakland, CA and the Institute for Community Leadership, Kent, WA.

The campaign has three main purposes: To assure active civics classes are taught in all schools, to promote school and community based civic engagement opportunities for young people, and voter education and voter registration for all high school juniors and seniors.

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Active, experiential civic learning classes in all schools

Active, experiential civic learning classes in all schools

Students need to know how government and public institutions work, and how to engage in the policy-making process. And they need the skills and attitudes necessary to be effective advocates. Without a knowledgeable, informed and active electorate, democracy falters.

Community-based civic opportunities for all students

Community-based civic opportunities for all students

Civic engagement is the single most important factor in creating social cohesion and healthy, inclusive communities. And students who are engaged in community uplift activities have greater self-confidence, stronger social skills, more problem solving ability, and higher academic achievement. Civic participation helps them discover meaning in their lives, changes how they spend their free time, and improves relationships that are key to career and family success.

Voter registration and education for all high school juniors and seniors

Voter registration and education for all high school juniors and seniors

Young people who develop a habit of voting regularly are likely to remain frequent voters, while those who don’t are likely to remain non-voters. Thus, effective, inspiring voter education and registration can have a powerful impact for decades to come. Increasing voter participation and civic engagement have been shown to be associated with a host of benefits, including higher employment rates, stronger social connections, more volunteerism, higher quality of life, school retention, and even longevity.

Working Together to Strengthen Civic Engagement

Please consider being a part of the To Us You Matter: VOTE efforts! Here’s what you can do:

  • Identify school personnel, administrators, teachers or counselors in your local schools who want to promote civic education. Send us their contact information and we will reach out!
  • Talk with community based organizations, faith based groups, unions, neighborhood councils and identify roles that young people can take to be civically engaged in local problem solving. Send us contact information to help strengthen the local network of opportunities.
  • Use your voice, spend time in local community problem solving or voter education and registration efforts.
  • Help us create a relationships offering effective strategies and ideas, and contribute to emerging research about how to keep improving civic education for all students.
  • Call on us if you need help to establish a voter registration program, or help designing curriculum and gathering resources for your local schools.

Let us know what you are doing. Share success stories and best practices that we can pass along to others! Please contact Dr. Roy Wilson at 206-571-6653 or Roy@mlkfreedomcenter.org.

Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series

The Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series, co-produced by the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center and Peralta Community College District, promotes an ample exchange of ideas to help inspire and move forward new leadership and servantship.

Broad East Bay audiences of all ages are exposed to some of our nation’s most courageous and exemplary civil and human rights figures, engaging in creative solutions and challenges to some of the most perplexing issues facing our communities today: economic inequity, voter disenfranchisement, systemic racism, violence in schools and neighborhoods, police brutality, and the contradictions and ramifications of extreme poverty.

Lectures are organized by the youth and staff at the Freedom Center, with a focus on promoting ideas and actions rooted in principles of nonviolence, and lessons from some of our nation’s most significant civil rights struggles.

Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center

Please visit our website for announcements of upcoming lectures. Or subscribe to our email list , and we will be sure you receive upcoming announcements directly to your in-box.

Donations for Barbara Lee & Elhu Harris Lecture Series




Past Lectures

  • Dr. Dorothy Cotton and Reverend C. T. Vivian
  • Jack Hunter O’Dell and Bob Zellner
  • Ambassador Andrew Young
  • Congressman John Lewis
  • Mayor Joaquin Castro
  • Dr. Helene Gaynes
  • Donzaleigh Abernathy, Luci Baines Johnson, Kerry Kennedy and Peggy Wallace Kennedy
  • Martin Luther King III
  • Peter V. Lee and Dr. Coyness Ennix
  • Dolores Huerta and Senator Art Torres
  • Reverend James Lawson, Jr
  • Minnijean Brown Trickey and Dr. Terrence Roberts
  • Dr. Clayborne Carson and Dr. Clarence Jones
  • Bobby Seale
  • Congresswoman Terri Sewell
  • Bob Moses
  • Congressman James Clyburn
  • Anita Hill
  • Danny Glover

To purchase or access videos of all past lectures, please contact our offices at 510-434-3988.

Cultural Leadership Exchanges

Freedom Center youth participate in conferences, seminars, trainings and historic commemorations throughout the United States. The Freedom Center, in partnership with the Institute for Community leadership in the State of Washington, maintains relationships with diverse urban, rural and tribal communities up and down the west coast. Exchanges evoke understanding between intergenerational and interracial communities, with a special focus on opportunities to spend time with elders who have dedicated their lives and careers to diverse work experiences, and to promoting peaceful and just relations.

Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center

Sihomara Duenas, Andrea Alba Martin, and Gabriela Ek listen to stories from Ahousaht First Nation elder while volunteering at Tribal Canoe Journeys, Quinault Indian Nation.

Students visit with Mr. Nick Cataño, 91 year old Philipino fisherman and farmworker, to learn about the struggle of workers in the Stockton Delta.

Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center
Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center

Augusta Mitchell teaches students to cook from scratch with organic produce they have grown. Part of public education program combating childhood diabetes and obesity. O’Dell Education Center, Kent, Washington.

Gerardo Cuevas and Eric Fuller with Congressman John Lewis and Congresswoman Barbara Lee on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, 9th Annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage, Selma, Alabama.