American Youthworks volunteers help clean historic East Austin cemetery

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said "Life's most persistent and urgent question is 'What are you doing for others?'”
On MLK Day, about 150 people took time out to do for others by giving new life to the Burdett Prairie Cemetery in East Austin.

"Martin Luther King Day is known as a day of service, it's a 'day on' not a 'day off.'  And so it's a time to be active and to do things to actively improve your community," said Parc Smith, CEO of American Youthworks.

Adama Brown grew up in East Austin.  She calls the cemetery "sacred space."  Many of her ancestors are buried there.

"This dates back to probably about maybe the 1840's, 1850's.  And so at that time, those who were buried here...because I'm from the Burdett Family line, they would have been slaves of course," Smith said.

She says many of the care-takers have passed on.

"This is a cemetery that's never been a part of the City of Austin.  It's always been privately owned," Brown said.

Smith says American Youthworks is an Austin-based non-profit.  The focus is giving young people skills to make a difference in their community.

Smith says they've been doing projects like this for 20 years but they started cleaning up the Burdett Prairie Cemetery about 8 years ago.

"When we came the first time the cemetery was completely overgrown," he said.

Smith says in the past they've removed 2,000 tires and 8 dumpsters full of trash.  Now it's a little easier.  Just sprucing up and cleaning debris that washed into the cemetery from flooding.

Folasade Ogunfiditimi says it's her third time helping clean up the cemetery.  She spent her morning picking up trash.

"Since I have durable long pants and sweatshirt, I didn't mind getting into the thorns," Ogunfiditimi said.

She says the MLK Day project helps her to be selfless.

"Those that visit their family members and stuff.  So they actually get to enjoy it and don't have to walk through weeds and stuff like that," she said.

"It's great to see so many young people especially coming out, learning something about the history of East Austin," Brown said.

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