cooperative-feeding_web.jpgMartin Luther King Jr. believed that all great leaders should serve.

To honor the civil rights leader’s birthday, many individuals, organizations and communities throughout the country engage in volunteer services, seeking to make a difference in the lives of people in need.

To commemorate King’s birthday, The National Urban Fellows (NUF) will provide a day of service as a part of its “Living the Dream” day on Jan. 15, King’s birthday.

The NUF is a leadership development organization that seeks to counter the under-representation of people of color and women in leadership positions.

The organization prepares men and women of all ethnic and racial backgrounds for leadership through a 14-month intensive program comprising two semesters of academic coursework and a nine-month mentorship with senior-level administration in a partnering government agency or non-profit organization.

The program is offered through Bernard M. Baruch College, part of the City University of New York.

On “Living the Dream’’ day, alumni and fellows of the program will spend the morning participating in two Broward County community service projects: the Cooperative Feeding Program, where they will help prepare and serve meals to people in need, and the Urban League of Broward County’s Literacy Program, where they will read to children at Walker Elementary School of the Arts.

The day of service is a part of NUF’s 39th Annual Leadership Conference, titled “New Wave: Leaders Changing America,’’ which takes place from Jan. 11-16 at the Gallery One Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. 

“It’s the first time we’ve added a day of service to our conference,” said NUF’s director of communications, Angela Perry, “although we’ve always wanted to. It will most likely become something we will continue. We love the fact that it’s being debuted in Broward County.”

Perry said the NUF chose the Jan. 15 date because “it’s Dr. King’s actual birth date. He was a major proponent of service to the community.
This allows us an opportunity to honor his memory by lending a helping hand with two vital services in Broward County and providing them, as well as the community, a needed service. It’s living his dream.”

The conference will bring the program’s alumni together and allow them to refocus on the purpose of the organization, said Floyd Johnson, executive director of the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, who is a mentor in the program.

“It will allow them to share experiences of in terms of how they are doing in the work world,” said Johnson, who was Fort Lauderdale’s first black city manager and Broward County’s first black county administrator.

Attending the conference is mandatory for the fellows, Johnson said.

The conference is a tool to make long-term friends and partners in the way of the corporate, governmental and non-profit communities, Johnson said, “so that we can look to them in the future for other potential fellows, mentors and support of our agenda.”

The NUF selected the Cooperative Feeding Program for service because they serve as a safety net for people in need, according to Gabriel Imperato, the conference’s co-chairman.

“And during these difficult economic times,” he added, “the need is even greater.”

About 15 to 20 fellows, mostly from the conference, will participate at each location, Imperato said.

“I will serve at the [Cooperative] Feeding Program in whatever capacity that needs filling,” Imperato said.

Marti Forman, the feeding program’s CEO, said that her organization is always grateful when groups like the NUF participate in more hands-on services in the community, “especially when they come in large numbers. We can then accomplish projects that normally would take us months to whittle down; they [the fellows] can do a lot in a single day. They can come in and help with things that have been neglected because of the lack of manpower.”

The Cooperative Feeding Program serves from 600 to 700 people each day, Forman said.

“We are one of the biggest providers of services to families in crisis and to the homeless,’’ Forman said. “It’s a good place to get a feel for what’s going on in our country, economically.”

Rocki Rockingham, the feeding program’s chair of the board, added, “We appreciate when organizations recognize that we are a key agency within the community. The fellows will make an impact, even if it’s just one day.”

The Cooperative Feeding Program, located at 1 NW 33rd Terrace in Lauderhill, provides counseling and support to families that have fallen into economic hardship out of the throes of difficult times. Its vision is to feed hungry bodies, minds and souls by providing nutritious food, information and referral with compassion and caring.

As a part of the Urban League of Broward County’s Literacy Project and through a partnership with NUF, fellows will read to the children at Walker Elementary School of the Arts at 1001 NW 4th Street in Fort Lauderdale.

“We were approached by the NUF about doing a community service activity during the week of its conference,” said Germaine Smith-Baugh, the Urban League’s president and CEO. “It’s actually National Literacy Week, so the timing was perfect.”

The Urban League, in partnership with Twan Russell and the Miami Dolphins, will give the school a series of diverse and ethnically appropriate books for its media center, Smith-Baugh said.

“We wanted to leave something with the school that would outlast what we would do that day,” she said.

As the fellows are preparing food for people at the Cooperative Feeding Program, and assisting those learning to read at Walker Elementary School, Perry said, the nation is preparing for the inauguration of its first black president, Barack Obama, “which is Martin’s dream,’’ she said.

Said Perry: “We think it’s poignant at this time to be in Broward County and involved with two community service organizations as a show of commemoration to Dr. King, a leader who believed in our country and whose dream is coming to fruition.”

The application deadline for the National Urban Fellows class of 2010 is Jan. 23, 2009. For more information, contact Miguel Garcia at 212-730-1700; email, or visit the NUF website at

Photo by Khary Bruyning. National Urban Fellows conference co-chair Gabriel L. Imperato, P.A., left; Rocki Rockingham, chair of the Cooperative Feeding Program, center; and National Urban Fellows conference co-chair Floyd T. Johnson, right.