A service-project outing in association with the MLK Federal Holiday had Ja Morant and other Memphis Grizzlies engaged in various tasks, including filling backpacks, at Springdale Memphis-Magnet School. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)
Terry Davis

With the celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday on the horizon, the Memphis Grizzlies embarked on a day of giving.

On Thursday (Jan. 12), the entire team made its way to North Memphis’ Springdale Memphis-Magnet Elementary School, 880 N. Hollywood St., for the annual MLK Day of Service outing. The Grizzlies broke into groups and teamed with other volunteers to complete tasks that likely will create benefits beyond the immediate purpose.

When 13 African-American first-graders bravely ushered in school integration on Oct. 3, 1961, Springdale was one of the four schools. Among the students, who became known as The Memphis 13, were Deborah Ann Holt and Jacqueline Moore, who integrated Springdale.

Sixty-two years after Holt and Moore, Memphis power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. was at Springdale writing messages of inspiration on index cards.

“I wrote down ‘you are enough.’ That is what my mom (Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBA Players Association) sends me every week. I was writing a lot of good messages. You want to make sure you inspire the future, because they are inspiring us. …

“Everyone had teachers. We are grown now. We can continue the cycle.”

Among Jackson’s other inspirational messages: “‘Everything you do makes a difference.’”

Jaren Jackson Jr. takes on the task of inspiration at Springdale Memphis-Magnet Elementary School. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Rri-State Defender)

On Monday at 6 p.m. and with a national audience watching on TNT, Jackson and his Grizzlies teammates will take the court at FedExForum for the annual MLK Day game, the culmination of several events the organization will host in recognition of MLK Day.

“Everything he did when it was a lot harder to do it,” said Jackson, responding to a question about what comes to mind when he thinks of the MLK Day holiday. “Now we can do similar things a little bit easier. He paved the way for us. He talks about including everybody. I think about inclusion.”

As the visit to Springdale unfolded, Ja Morant, head coach Taylor Jenkins, Vince Williams and Desmond Bane assisted in filling over 100 backpacks with crayons, paper folders, and other school supplies.

The tasks for others included assembling tables and chairs, a large sofa and a four-shelf storage stand, and painting a mural.

Tyus Jones lends a hand in painting a mural at Springdale Memphis-Magnet Elementary School. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

Jenkins said the MLK Holiday brings to mind Dr. King’s legacy.

“One man standing up for so many,” he said. “This legacy is something you have to embrace, especially in this city.”

Noting the impact King made “in so many lives,” Jenkins said there is a quote by King in the coaches’ office: “‘Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.’ That stands out to me.”

Xavier Tillman said the service project is not something the players have to think about doing.

Xavier Tillman (right) and Ziaire Willams take on the task of putting together a chair set. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

“We just say, ‘yeah, we can do it.’ For other people, they see us and say, ‘you are taking time out of your busy day to help us’. … For us to have that impact, we are more than willing to do it.”