MLK Day of Service: Carrying his legacy forward by doing for others

Americans all over the country are honoring the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. by giving back to their community and taking part in the national MLK Day of Service.

David Goldman/AP Photo
Kindergarten students with the Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta watch as an eternal flame burns at the gravesite of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Jan. 17.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’ ”

Those words were spoken by the slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also a strong proponent of community service.

This weekend, students, families and individuals across the country have been putting Dr. King’s teachings into practice, devoting some of their long holiday weekend to serving others as part of the MLK Day of Service, which urges Americans to consider the holiday “A day on, not a day off.”

Volunteer organizations, universities, church groups, and municipalities around the country have organized a wide variety of service projects throughout the weekend, ranging from simple actions such as donating a coat or bag of groceries to the needy, to more substantial time investments such as community construction or painting projects.

Here are just a few:

• In Boston, more than 400 volunteers signed up in advance with local volunteer organizer Boston Cares to participate in a series of projects Monday. Among them, assembling beds for children who are transitioning from emergency shelters into permanent housing.

“We have people who come to this day year after year,” says Patrice Keegan, executive director of Boston Cares. “For a lot of people, it’s their first volunteering experience, especially for a lot of young people.”

Ms. Keegan sees the MLK Day of Service as something of an onramp to ongoing volunteer experiences. At the end of each of the day’s two shifts, Boston Cares staff will introduce volunteers to the myriad of volunteer opportunities going on throughout the year.

• Also Monday, The Ohio State University is planning to put nearly 1000 students to work on Monday serving meals, working with youth, and participating in clean-up projects in and around Columbus, Ohio.

• On Friday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence kicked off the weekend with dozens of volunteers who spent the morning sprucing up the neighborhood around Watkins Park in Indianapolis.

• In Leawood, Kansas, The Church of the Resurrection has more than a dozen volunteer projects planned where parishioners can help to unload food pantry donations, spend time with senior citizens, and sort clothing donations.

• On Saturday, the Community Action Council in Lexington, Ky. organized volunteers to prepare backpacks full of personal hygiene items for homeless veterans.

• In Polk County, Fla., AmeriCorps has lined up volunteers to spend a morning reading to local kindergarteners throughout the coming week.

Coretta Scott King urges Americans to carry King’s legacy of compassion, humility, and service forward throughout the year in her writings on The Meaning of the King Holiday posted on The King Center website.

“Dr. King reminded us time after time that everyone can serve in some way, no matter what his or her background may be. It is one of the many ideas of Dr. King that deserve celebration, not just on his birthday but every day, and not just in this country, but also all around the world.

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