JACKSON, Mich. (WLNS)—For more than 60 years the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Jackson has stood as a foundation for the community. Antonio Parker says he remembers running around the gym when he was just a few years old.
“I’ve been coming to the King Center since I was a toddler, an itty bitty pup, so the King Center has been the backbone of who I am,” said Parker.
It’s a foundation that’s he says led him to where he stands today. Now as the Center’s director— he’s continuing the legacy of serving the community. Today that means being a mentor for the more than 150 kids who come through the door for free every day during the summer.
“My passion is working with youth and impacting young people. I felt like it’s a calling and it’s something that pulls on my heartstrings. This is not work to me. This is a passion that I chase.”
It’s a calling Parker says is felt by many others as well, including volunteers like Alphonso Boutire, who like Parker found meaning here at a young age.
“That’s what I wanted to kind of re-create. That same feeling. Come down show leadership, be a mentor, especially around this neighborhood you don’t really have too many positive males, and African American males at that. So I just wanted to give back because somebody gave to me at some point.
Together they’re passing down the lessons someone else once taught them.
“How to take care of yourself. How to value yourself, how to create opportunities, how to work together, how to settle differences, the list could go on but I just really want to see community, family, and that’s what the sense is down here,” said Boutire.
Parker says they’re also working with partners from around the community to promote education, and soon they’ll be working to bring camps like baseball back to Jackson.
Parker says seeing the look in kids eyes makes it all worth it.
“When a kid walks up to you and says I had a great time today, thank you for allowing me to come down here and have fun, priceless. You can’t put a tag on it.”
Programming runs from 8:30 to 3:30 Monday through Friday. There is still space to sign up.
“Always keep the doors open for kids to come in and have a space to be safe, have fun and a good experience,” said Parker.