PORTLAND, Ore. - According to Sen. Jeff Merkley, education should be a civil right in Oregon.
“I was the child of a machinist, a mechanic," Merkley said. “When I was small, he took me to the grade school and he pointed at those schoolhouse doors and he said, ‘You go through those doors and you work hard, here in America you can do just about anything.'"
The senator joined 1,000 college and university students from schools in the Portland-Salem area Monday for a day of service in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“I think what really ties this group together is a want to give back to communities in general,” said Cristobal Mantillas, a volunteer at the event and a sophomore at Reed College.
“It was just really inspiring to see so many people coming out [and] having to wake up early to get here,” Mantillas said.
Students planned to build “career ready kits” for 7,000 high school juniors in Multnomah and Marion counties. Volunteers also traveled to east Portland to clean in and around 23 separate schools.
Merkley spoke at a kick-off rally Monday morning at David Douglas High School.
“In terms of the message of an economic foundation for families’ success that Martin Luther King carried forward, this is a particularly appropriate way to be celebrating the holiday,” he said after the event.
Organizers and volunteers hoped the activities improve graduation rates in the Portland and Salem areas.