This Monday, Americans will come together on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 21th, to honor the civil rights leader through volunteer service. In 1983, legislation was signed that created a federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This federal holiday was first observed in 1986.
Dr. King had a dream that one day all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He called for social justice and opportunity and asked that we bridge differences and join together under a banner of service.
In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service. The Corporation for National and Community Service was charged with leading this effort. The holiday takes place each year, on the third Monday in January. This holiday is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a "day on, not a day off." This initiative is a part of United We Serve bringing Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems and moves us closer to Dr. King's vision of a "Beloved Community."
Participation in the MLK Day of Service has grown steadily during the past decade, with hundreds of thousands of Americans each year engaging in projects such as tutoring and mentoring children, painting schools and senior centers, delivering meals, building homes and reflecting on Dr. King's life and teachings. Many of the projects started on King Day continue to engage volunteers beyond the holiday and impact the community year-round.
Although the scope and community involvement of this holiday continues to grow every year, many people are still not aware of the service component of this day, typically regarding it as a day “off” from work or school. It is intended to be a day “on.” It is a day to of service and a day of giving back. Many American Democracy Project colleges and universities organize and sponsor MLK Day educational and volunteer activities. The Corporation for National and Community Service provides helpful resources for those interested in making a difference in their area. https://www.nationalservice.gov/serve-your-community/mlk-day-service.
Each of us has a unique opportunity to unite with our fellow Americans in volunteer service and issue a call-to-action to do what we do best – lend a hand, help our neighbors and build better communities. I challenge each of you to make the pledge, not just for Monday, but throughout the year.
As a nation, tremendous social progress has been made since Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial more than 50 years ago, but much remains unfinished. More and more Americans believe that the power to make positive change is in the hands of the people. It is in the hands of those like you and me. Change for good can be made in cities struggling with poverty and high unemployment rates, or in families where people are going hungry and changes in school districts where more than half of our children are not graduating from high school. Change can also be made, right here in Lemoore. It begins with you and it begins with me.
Volunteer service can be a powerful force. Neighbors helping neighbors, young helping old, employees offering skills and companies investing in communities where they do business. Now, more than ever, the ability to do good in the service of others is not out of reach. The impact is bigger than ever.
The Chaplain’s Office is an excellent resource for local community service opportunities. Whether it is the Salvation Army in Hanford, the Lemoore Soup Kitchen or God’s Bread Box, helping hands are always needed in our surrounding communities. Please call the Chapel at 559-998-4618 if you are looking for a way to give back.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service each January marks the beginning of a year of service as we honor the memory of Dr. King by contributing our time and effort to improve our communities. I look forward to hearing of your accomplishments in our communities throughout the year.
As always, take care of yourself and those in your charge.