Montco Community College, local activists are ‘reimagining community service’

The Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County co-founders from left to right. Veronica Moeller (L), Carmina Taylor (C) and Christopher Jaramillo (R). (Courtesy of the Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County)

The Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County co-founders from left to right. Veronica Moeller (L), Carmina Taylor (C) and Christopher Jaramillo (R). (Courtesy of the Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County)

Montgomery County Community College and the Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County are kicking off a year-long partnership with an MLK Day virtual town hall.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity, for what not only our partnership with the movement might look like going forward and in developing greater service opportunities with the resources we have at our disposal, but also thinking about the broader reach that both of our organizations can have in serving our community,” said Tyler Steffy, director of student life at the college.

“Reimagining Community Service: A Virtual Town Hall” will take place through Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 18. Advance registration is not required. The discussion is open to everyone in Montgomery County, and those who attend can also choose to submit public service announcements of what community service should look like. The event will begin with an overview of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as well as a screening of the PSAs. In addition, participants in the Countywide Cultural Proficiency/Equity Student Ambassador Program, a cultural proficiency and advocacy program in several county high schools, will speak.

(Courtesy of the Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County)

“Then we’ll engage with the people that are willing to create community service projects, and we’ll spend all the rest of the time leading up to the spring, and hopefully by summer we can start doing some real work in the community hands-on,” said Carmina Taylor, co-founder of the Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County.

The Jan. 18 event will include speakers from the community college, the Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County, and possibly from the Cheltenham School District. Event organizers say that they have also invited local officials, state representatives, and congressional leadership to be a part of the conversation.

“We want this to be a collective event with organizations and community leaders and different groups across the county,” Taylor said.

The college contacted the organization about a collaboration as it was formulating plans ahead of MLK Day.

“And so to honor MLK’s legacy, we reached out to several organizations, including … the Movement for Black and Brown Lives of Montgomery County, to see how Montco could meaningfully help and be supportive of all communities of color,” Steffy said.

The organization was co-founded by Taylor, Christopher Jaramillo, and Veronica Moeller as a local call to action after a summer of nationwide protests addressing racism and police brutality.

Taylor, a longtime resident of the county and former president of the NAACP Ambler branch, noticed a troubling trend about MLK Day as it was celebrated during her youth.

“When I was younger and I did a MLK Day of Service, we always went into Philly. We always painted a wall or a building or a school in Philly, but we didn’t focus on the needs in Montgomery County,” she said.

So when the community college came calling, the organization already had an idea in mind:

“Let’s do a program centered around people presenting their visions and their ideas and how they can serve marginalized communities within Montgomery County,” Taylor said.

She also helped found and serves as a consultant for the Countywide Cultural Proficiency/Equity Student Ambassadors Program that has sprung up at four county school districts since February 2020: Cheltenham, North Penn, Norristown, and Upper Dublin.

The program is hoping to expand to the Abington, Methacton, Hatboro-Horsham, and Upper Moreland school districts in the spring. In the meantime, some current students will use the virtual town hall to hone their advocacy skills.

Both partners hope that the MLK Day town hall will be the start of something new.

“We’re hoping that this isn’t just a one-off event. [We’re hoping] this … grows into a partnership that we can continue serving the county and our constituents in a variety of ways,” Steffy said.

In addition to the virtual town hall, the college’s plans for MLK Day include writing letters to essential workers and nursing homes.

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