MLK Day of Service


MLK Day of Service

by: David Hurwitz | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: January 15, 2013

Most Americans, indeed a great many people around the world, are aware of the great contribution that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made to the cause of civil rights in the U.S. It was because of those efforts that in 1983 the third Monday of January was designated as a federal holiday to commemorate the Jan. 15 date of his birth.

But holidays sometimes take on a life of their own. And in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that transformed the holiday into a day of volunteer service by individual citizens in honor of King. The move was perhaps inspired by a question posed by the civil rights leader: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

This question has been answered by many in the years since the National Day of Service was established. This special day, which has been called “A day on, not a day off,” has been adopted as a way to move people closer to King’s vision of what he called a “beloved community,” where brotherhood is a reality and all people share in the wealth of society.

“The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems,” according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service website. “On this day, Americans of every age and background celebrate Dr. King through service projects that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.”

The Day of Service is part of United We Serve, President’s Barack Obama’s service initiative that calls on Americans, “to participate in our nation’s recovery and renewal by serving our communities.”

“The focus on service every MLK holiday is an annual reminder of the unfulfilled needs in our communities and the opportunities we have to meet them,” United We Serve’s Greg Tucker says, according to the Day of Service website. “Volunteering is in our nation's DNA, and there are many tools to connect with local service opportunities through search engines like the one we have on”

This includes programs that collect commitments to support veterans and military families. This includes stand down events to help homeless veterans; roundtables to disseminate information about VA benefits for veterans, families, survivors and caregivers; and campaigns to send letters and care packages to deployed troops.

On military bases, where volunteering is part of the culture both on MLK Day and throughout the year, activities range from helping out on runs, offering instruction to young people who belong to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and coaching youth sports teams.

Kadena Air Base held a 5-kilometer run/walk on Jan. 16 in honor of Martin Luther King Day at the Risner Fitness Center as well as a blood drive at the Schilling Community Center on Jan. 17. An MLK Luncheon was slated for Jan. 18 at the NCO Club Ballroom and there will be a rice drive on Jan. 20 for an off-base homeless shelter. The chapel supports the shelter by sending people to help as well as by donating 600 pounds of rice a week.

Some base volunteers go to the off-base Kadena Language Institute, a two-year vocational-type school established by the town of Kadena, to engage in a language exchange program. Airmen and civilian personnel talk about the military lifestyle and civilian experience working for the U.S. military to expand the students’ outlook and future opportunities. The program is expected to expand in its second year of operation.

“Volunteers get experience through this kind of program because they don’t have a lot of opportunity to be involved or speak to people in the local community or experience local culture,” said Keiko Toma, community relations specialist.

Her office also handles volunteers for the Okinawa City Marathon, whose course runs through the base. More than 200 volunteers help the 9,000 or so runners, manning the water stations, cheering the competitors on and cleaning up afterward.

The American Red Cross is another major organization needing volunteers for its health and safety classes, fundraisers and large-scale community events. About 97 percent of the ARC’s staff worldwide are volunteers.

“If we didn’t have volunteers, especially for our health and safety classes, we would have a hard time functioning,” said Jason Ramlow, the ARC station manager at Kadena.

For more information on volunteering, contact the Volunteer Resource Center at the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 634-3366 or Community Relations at 634-5459. You can contact the American Red Cross at 634-1294.

President, 1st family to volunteer

In a personal tweet sent on Jan. 8, President Barack Obama said: “My family will be joining Americans across the country for a national day of service on January 19th – join us.”

The president will offer his service that day, rather than on Jan. 21, because he will be privately sworn in for a second term on Jan. 20 and the public inauguration and parade will take place the following day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Obama family has been involved in a community service project in commemoration of the King holiday for the past few years.
Vice President Joe Biden and other senior administration officials will also participate in the national day of service.

The president encourages all Americans to serve on Martin Luther King Day and throughout the year, saying, “America’s never been about what can be done for us; it’s about what can be done by us together.”

‘I Have a Dream’ speech to mark 50th anniversary

On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a 17-minute speech to an audience of over 200,000 people during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the speech, which is considered by many to be the greatest American address of the 20th century, started by mentioning the Emancipation Proclamation, but decried the fact that 100 years later African Americans were still not free.

King also invoked the words of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.

But what made the speech memorable, even 50 years later, was his use of a technique called “anaphora,” the repetition of a phrase at the beginning of sentences.

“I have a dream,” he said eight times in a rhythmic cadence, following those words each time with a vision of a better America. The most famous of these was, "I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!"

According to Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, “By speaking the way he did, he educated, he inspired, he informed not just the people there, but people throughout America and unborn generations."

Despite King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to lead sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and poor working conditions, his words still ring out 50 years later. The dream lives on.

MLK wins Nobel Peace Prize for civil rights, international peace efforts

In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the presentation given by the chairman of the Nobel Committee, Gunnar Jahn noted the civil rights activities Dr. King had led as well as the expansion of his nonviolent philosophy to the international arena, saying, “He is the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races.

“Today we pay tribute to Martin Luther King, the man who has never abandoned his faith in the unarmed struggle he is waging, who has suffered for his faith, who has been imprisoned on many occasions, whose home has been subject to bomb attacks, whose life and the lives of his family have been threatened, and who nevertheless has never faltered.”

Emancipation Proclamation turns 150

The first step toward gaining equal rights for all Americans was the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863. The proclamation declared that “all persons held as slaves…are, and henceforward shall be free.”

The document, issued by the president under his war powers, served as a rallying cry for those who opposed slavery and reshaped U.S. war aims, which were originally to preserve the Union. But few Americans know that it applied only to the states that had seceded from the Union, and not to loyal border states or parts of the Confederacy that had come under Northern control.

And, of course, the Union had to win the war before it could implement the proclamation.

But the document gave the Union cause renewed moral force, turning the Civil War into a fight for freedom, and enabled the entry of nearly 200,000 black men, including newly freed slaves, into the U.S. Army and Navy.

It took the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865 for slavery and involuntary servitude to be legally abolished throughout the entire United States.

The original 150-year-old document is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.