In 1994 Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off from work or school, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King's legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action. The King Day of Service brings together people who might not ordinarily meet, breaks down barriers that have divided us in the past, leads to better understanding and ongoing relationships, and is an opportunity to recruit new volunteers for your ongoing work.
Participation in the King Day of Service has grown steadily over 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 of the event grows every year, many people still are not aware of the service component of the holiday. By encouraging the participation of as many organizations as possible, we hope to make next year's King Day of Service the biggest and best ever, engaging more people in service that honors Dr. King's life and teachings.
"When you choose to serve—whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood—you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That’s why it’s called the American dream."
I will admit - I was not previously aware of the call to serve as part of observing MLK day. Were you? There are any number of ways here in Austin to serve that weekend. Wherever you live, you can either join in an ongoing activity or organize your own here.
Hopefully, if you haven't established a regular way to give back to the community, you can get a head start with a project that weekend. If you already serve regularly, then try inviting somebody new to join you and help another person get involved. It is always easier getting started when you have a friend along to show you the ropes. Or to share a new experience, either way.
From the MLK Mobilization site:As we approach the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday on January 19, 2009--the day before our country inaugurates the 44th President of the United States--many Americans are facing tremendous hardships.
• 37 million Americans live in poverty
• 50% of students in our inner cities don't graduate from high school
• 15 million children need mentors, and millions more are struggling because of the economic downtown
Sobering, isn't it. I haven't decided where/how to serve yet. Have any of you? Feel free to share what/where you are doing to observe this national day of service in the comments. But most importantly, get up, get out, and do something over the MLK Jr. weekend to give back to the wonderful place(s) where you live.