Martin Luther King Jr. Hope Quilt Project Debuts at Elting Memorial Library

MLK Hope Quilt
It is hoped that Dr. King’s words of peace, hope and unity can inspire personal and social exploration and awareness for children and families participating in the library’s hope quilt project. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.Commons)

“Libraries are a cornerstone of a free and democratic society,” stated Kimberly Demetriou, the new Children’s Librarian at Elting Memorial Library. “It is our job to make sure that even our youngest patrons have access to age-appropriate materials that enrich and inform their lives.”

Like many during the pandemic, Demetriou has been faced with the difficult task of developing enriching and engaging programs while still adhering to Covid-19 guidelines. For the Elting Memorial Library, these guidelines mean no visitors are allowed inside the building, leading library program coordinators to get creative by offering virtual events and take-home projects.

Though library doors cannot be physically open to the public at this time, Demetriou still believes in providing “children and their families with the kinds of programs and resources that encourage personal and social exploration and awareness.”

Which is why she came up with the idea of a Hope Quilt in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and his messages of peace and unity. 

From Jan. 11 to Jan. 29, children and families in New Paltz were able to pick up “craft kits” assembled by Demetriou from the library’s pickup window. These kits included fabric squares that families were able to decorate. The squares will eventually be pieced together to form a hope quilt which will be displayed in the window of the library’s Children’s Room. 

The inspiration for this project came from various library programs Demetriou has participated in over the past. At one library she worked in, children designed a “Friendship Quilt,” assembled from individual square pieces. At another library, coloring sheets for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which would often display the word “hope,” were annually distributed. So, Demetriou combined the two ideas and set to work.

Demetriou noted how this project doubles as a chance for children to practice creative expression as well as the opportunity for families “to express their ideas and feelings and have a dialogue about what hope and/or the words of Dr. King means to them.” 

Families had their own choice of how to decorate the squares and what topics or themes they wanted to explore. They responded with a variety of different meanings and messages to display.

Submissions include a square that depicts the words “Love, Hope, Equality” written over a rainbow, a square with an American Flag and the famous Dr. King quote, “I have a dream,” and another with a closed fist and the word “unity.”

This project holds resonance with our current moment in history, and Demetriou hopes it can invoke an important dialogue between children and their families surrounding civil rights issues and ongoing racial injustices in our nation. 

“Most of the projects I organize for the library are meant to be fun distractions and/or opportunities for self expression and skill development,” Demetriou explained. “But as much as children and their families need and want moments of levity during the pandemic, there are larger social issues that cannot wait for a vaccine in order to be addressed.” 

While Demetriou noted that these issues are far from new, it is becoming more common for parents to address topics related to social justice issues with their children due to a larger number of children’s books and resources surrounding these subjects becoming available. 

“This project was yet another opportunity for families to discuss and learn about one of the Civil Rights Movements’ greatest leaders, Martin Luther King Jr., and to talk about the racial injustice and social inequality he fought to change,” said Demetriou, “For other families, for whom these conversations have always been front and center in their lives, this project could serve as a means to express their feelings or thoughts on Dr. King’s legacy and the racial bias and disparity that continues to exist.”

“I intended the project to fulfill a multitude of purposes and to reflect and respect the unique character and history of individual families,” she concluded.

Though the project was meant to come to an end on Feb. 1, resulting in the quilt’s display taking place within the first week of February, Demetriou is extending the deadline and allowing latecomers time to finish and return their squares.

Demetriou wishes to make this an ongoing, annual project, either expanding this year’s quilt or creating new ones as time goes on.