As an Ally, As a Leader: The Modern Civil Rights Legacy

Tykeem McCord, 2021-2022 Public Allies Central Florida participant

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “but comes through continuous struggle.”

In recent years, more and more Americans have been recognizing that legacy by using Martin Luther King, Jr. Day not as a “day off,” but a “day on” – a chance to start a conversation about challenges in our community, work together to share solutions, and further Dr. King’s conviction in building a better world through civic engagement, political activism and charitable service.

That’s also what Public Allies Central Florida, a social justice organization run by Embrace Families Solutions, is all about: growing tomorrow’s leaders to shape the future. In the Allies program, young people who are passionate about creating change can hone their skills while working on high-impact projects.




Public Allies has had a big influence on me personally. Growing up in Tampa, I got interested in advocacy at a young age, served on the board of my undergraduate NAACP and went door-to-door as a canvasser. After graduating, I was left at a crossroads until I came across this program, which gave me the opportunity to work with the Legal Aid Society in Orange County.

My apprenticeship with Legal Aid Society of the O.C.B.A., Inc. in Orlando empowers me to work directly with families in need, while learning the ropes of overseeing volunteers and administration. It has also inspired me to pursue my master’s degree in nonprofit management and public administration.

Of course, not everyone builds their career around advocacy. But as Dr. King once said, “Everyone can be great, because anybody can serve.” From homelessness to healthcare access, there’s no shortage of challenges facing Central Florida – but there’s also no shortage of ways you can make a difference.

Turn to your talents. If you’re a writer, write a blog or a newsletter about a cause you care about. If you have a knack for graphic design, create some infographics and share them online. Whatever your skills or resources, there is a way you can use them to support worthy initiatives in the community.

Choose a cause you care about. Maybe you feel driven to increase access to mental health care, or perhaps you’re inspired to mentor young adults. No matter where your passion leads you, there are many different sectors of service in Central Florida that can benefit from your support, so don’t hesitate to step up.

Engage more, not less. Do you know who your elected officials are – and how to hold them accountable? How about when elections are held in your area? Or what issues face your community? If not, take the time to push for change. Nonpartisan groups like Common Cause make it easy to search for that information online.

Help others get involved. Plenty of people just aren’t aware of the issues ongoing in our community – or if they do, they don’t know how best to help or what they can do to make a real difference. By spreading the word about the challenges faced by Central Floridians, you can give your friends and family a chance to create a positive impact.

The importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is still apparent in our nation today, as many communities stand divided along political lines and dogmatic mindsets. But I’ve seen firsthand how even the smallest compassionate gesture can fill a person’s day with joy, change their perspective or expand their worldview. Service isn’t a one-way street; it’s a mutual journey toward understanding.

If that strikes a chord with you, consider learning more about programs like Public Allies by visiting the website at PublicAllies.org/CentralFlorida and LegalAidOCBA.org. After all, there’s no “wrong way” to give back to the community, and there’s no contribution too small to make a difference. It’s about stepping up to do what you can, when you can and empowering others to do their part, too.

Tykeem McCord, 21, is currently participating in the 2021-2022 Public Allies of Central Florida cohort and serving as Assistant Coordinator for Volunteer Advocates for Children at Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc.

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