In 2010, Marlene Quincoces watched Evan Almighty, in which Morgan Freeman, playing God, tells Steve Carell that acts of random kindness will change the world. She created a nonprofit group to follow Freeman’s advice.
In 2011, Emily Gunter discovered the Negro Baseball Leagues used to play in Overtown’s Dorsey Park. She and her son, artist Kadir Nelson, set out to create a community mural to commemorate the historic site.
In 1963, Preston Marshall was one of thousands who marched on Washington in the name of civil rights. He would later organize the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Liberty City — and still runs it 37 years later.
Different inspirations, different causes, same goal: create positive change. In the spirit of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, a new nonprofit group is organizing “Day of Unity Miami,” in which hundreds of volunteers will paint, plant and provide assistance to communities across the county.
“The idea is really to invade the city with kindness on that day and leave a lasting impression,” said Rhonda Binda, unite4:good’s director of global community outreach.
Entrepreneur Anthony Melikhov, who founded the pharmaceutical firm Sagmel and sold it to Bayer in 2008, created unite4:good last year to inspire global kindness. It connects projects and volunteers, sponsors and organizations, celebrities and causes, harnessing media and technology.
Miami is the first of several cities targeted by unite4:good. Volunteers can choose from more than 15 service projects, from planting a garden alongside children at Support the Autism Road to Success (STARS) Autism School to helping at an art therapy workshop with Rise Up to Cure Paralysis.
The day will close with a concert at Ice Palace Film Studios — free to volunteers — where hip hop artist and Miami native Flo Rida will perform.
“It’s inspiring to know my performance is the celebration after so many good deeds will have impacted our community. Having all of this on MLK Day is the icing on the cake,” Flo Rida said.
Daniel Quiros, who runs the service learning program at Doral Academy Preparatory School, a charter high school, said at least 50 of his students planned to volunteer.
“When I saw how many different projects are going on in the city that day, I said, ‘This is like a service playground,’ ” Quiros said. “So I told the kids, ‘Guys, turn your day off into a day on and get out there and help.’ ”
Many of his students have signed up for the Performing Acts of Random Kindness Project’s (PARK) “flash mob of kindness.” Rather than mass-choreographed dances, volunteers will scatter and deliver hugs, high-fives, water bottles, snacks and friendly conversation to random passers-by.
“You never know what someone is going through,” said Yanelis Cobas, a junior at Doral Academy. “Just giving them a hug might mean everything.”
Quincoces, who is unite4:good’s local administrator, founded PARK in 2010 to inspire people with the philosophy that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is wasted.
PARK held a small “flash mob of kindness” on Lincoln Road in November. On Monday, 100 volunteers will scatter among four locations to perform random good deeds.
One flash mob will visit Dorsey Park in Overtown, where Urgent, a nonprofit group aimed at empowering kids to transform their communities, is holding a community paint day. Volunteers will continue work that started in 2011 to transform the park’s drab, yellow walls into murals honoring the Negro League players who once threw curve balls and stole bases on the field.
“Everyone has great pride that this is a historic place,” said Gunter, Urgent’s director of building literacy through arts and culture. “It is hallowed ground, where our ancestors played baseball and changed America.”
The project recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a splash of color in the corner of the park is evidence of the work that kids, artists and community members have done to keep its history alive.
Nelson, whose art has appeared on the covers of albums by Michael Jackson and Drake, is the lead artist. He will be there Monday working on portraits of James Raleigh Mackey, Josh Gibson and Hilton Smith — three players from the Negro Leagues.
Unite4:good also included longstanding Miami traditions in the Day of Unity, such as the 37th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Liberty City. Marshall, the parade’s founder, has organized the parade every year. For Marshall, it is both a celebration of progress and a reminder of the work that remains in fulfilling King’s dream of equality.
“We’ve come a long way in 50 years,” he said. “There is now opportunity to live the American Dream — almost. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
And a new generation is carrying the torch.
One of those is 15-year-old Lizeth Castro, a sophomore at Doral Academy, who plans to participate in the flash mob of kindness.
“There will be a lot of people volunteering for different things,” she said. “What brings us all together is that we all want to help out.”