Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on this date 84 years ago — though the nation won’t celebrate the King holiday until Monday — but maybe the most gratifying element of his legacy is that King Day is rapidly becoming a day across the nation when people commit themselves to the service of others.
From schools to corporations to municipalities, Americans will be using King’s birthday to recognize that each of us needs to further dedicate ourselves to helping others. Selfless service was not only a fundamental ingredient in King’s life, it is also an essential element in the Christian religion that King dedicated his life to as a Baptist preacher.
The edict to “love your neighbor as yourself” is one of the defining principles of Christianity — though many modern Christians have moved far away from that ideal.
King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ”
So it is only appropriate that doing for others has grown into a King Day tradition. Congress first made the connection in 1994 between the King holiday and the National Day of Service, calling on Americans to honor the man by doing something for others. The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service—seen as a “day on, not a day off.” It is part of United We Serve, the president’s national “call to service” initiative.
“It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems,” says the government website established for King Day. “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.’…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. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. 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.”
On the government site, mlkday.gov, users can enter a ZIP code to find a long list of projects nearby.