In Honoring MLK, We Lead the Way
Dr. Martin Luther King’s life is celebrated because of his devotion to advancing equality, social justice and opportunity for all. The holiday observing Dr. King’s birthday, which takes place this year on Jan. 17, has a strong and historic Philadelphia-area connection.
Most of us are familiar with his “I Had a Dream” speech, but not as many are aware of this Dr. King quote: Life’s most urgent and persistent question is: What are you doing for others?
The King Day of Service was launched in Philadelphia in 1996 with about 1,000 volunteers, primarily Philadelphia school students. Last year the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service reported that more than 70,000 volunteers worked on 1,100 projects across the area — the nation’s largest observation of this event. Another great turnout is expected this year across the Delaware Valley, says Todd Bernstein, director of the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service.
New Jersey and Delaware families also participate. Past New Jersey projects have included kids decorating Dr. King placemats for soup kitchens, a letter writing campaign for troops overseas organized by Cherry Hill High School West, and minor painting and repairs for Burlington City, says Steven Burch, director of the Volunteer Center of Camden County.
In Delaware, a celebration of Dr. King’s life will be held at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. In the past, this event enabled non-profits to give the public information about their causes. “This year the emphasis will be on doing projects,” says Clare Garrison, volunteer services coordinator in the Delaware State Office of Volunteerism. Several projects are available for volunteers on site, she says.
Of the volunteers who participate in the King Day of Service, Bernstein says, “It’s the most diverse gathering of people. It attracts people of all ages and backgrounds, from different walks of life and experiences.” Many organizers report that families often attend King Day events together, and that many kids participate in projects with their parents. Garrison reports that it is easier to recruit and organize young volunteers these days because of social media.
Many school districts have adopted a service learning requirement, so kids get the opportunity through schools curricula to engage in the community. “The day of service allows us to take the classroom learning experience into the community,” says Bernstein.
Dr. King’s Lessons
The King holiday is not just about service. “It’s particularly important for young people to get the opportunity to learn about Dr. King,” says Bernstein. The hope is that those lessons will impart a sense of civic responsibility in young people. “We all have an obligation to be of service to each other,” says Burch.
According to Burch, helping others is perhaps more critical than ever before, given the current economic times. Bernstein concurs, noting that in a very divided political climate, volunteering to help others takes a step toward bringing us back together.
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.