A call to service

If he were alive today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be turning 84 this month. Were he still with us, perhaps he would have joined the lines at the National Archives to see the original Emancipation Proclamation on its 150th anniversary. He might even brave the throngs on the National Mall on Inauguration Day to see the first African-American president being sworn in for the second time.

Undoubtedly, Dr. King would remind us to continue to seek “the Beloved Community.” He described it in 1956 as “this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

As a part of his second inaugural, President Obama has taken Dr. King’s vision and called the nation to join him in a National Day of Service. On Saturday, Jan. 19, events in all 50 states will honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Here in Washington, thousands of volunteers will have the opportunity to serve in official inaugural events. Greater DC Cares will continue its proud tradition of honoring the legacy of the civil-rights leader, as well as the role of community service as a valuable instrument for social change. In doing so, DC Cares will also recognize and celebrate the entire weekend, including Monday — the anniversary of Dr. King’s birth. Dedicating this weekend to service in partnership with the Presidential Inaugural Committee presents a unique opportunity to unite both celebrations. Greater DC Cares will offer three signature service events: 

On Friday, Jan. 18, DC Cares will focus efforts on education-related service projects at various public and charter schools, education facilities and training centers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, providing the opportunity to engage in both service-based and skilled-based projects. For details or to register, go to www.mlk2013.kintera.org

On Saturday, Jan. 19, DC Cares will participate in the country’s signature service event, Unite America in Service. Up to 10,000 volunteers will pack 100,000 care kits for deployed U.S. service members, wounded warriors, veterans and first-responders. This event is hosted by Points of Light and Target, in partnership with HandsOn Greater DC Cares, Operation Gratitude, the Corporation for National and Community Service, Community Blueprint, Serve DC, Volunteer Fairfax and The George Washington University. For details or to register, go to www.pointsoflight

Also Saturday on the Mall, the Presidential Inaugural Committee will sponsor a National Day of Service Fair, featuring projects hosted by service organizations from across the country. Visitors will find opportunities to volunteer on the spot, as well as opportunities to sign up to volunteer in the coming year. 

On Monday, Jan. 21, DC Cares will offer community-focused volunteer opportunities. Projects will take place at various recreation centers, senior homes, food banks and shelters throughout the greater D.C. region. For details or to register, visit www.mlk2013.kintera.org.

All together, DC Cares will mobilize more than 12,000 volunteers in service to local communities, schools and nonprofits for the 2013 Inauguration and the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend of Service. 

In 1994, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and then-Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa.) sponsored legislation making the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday a day of service. On the House floor that year, Lewis said that Jan. 21 should be “a day in celebration of what he stood for. ... It should be a celebration of community. It should be a celebration of coming together. It should be a celebration of what America should be, what America could be.”

“Dr. King’s method was love. His weapon was truth. And his goal was the ‘Beloved Community’ — a community based on justice, a community at peace. We no longer hear his voice,” Lewis continued, “but we still hear his words. We can no longer take part in his actions, but we can take actions of our own. We must not allow the King holiday to become a day of nothing in particular. We must make the holiday a day of action, for ourselves and for our children.”

On Jan. 21 and every day, we have the ability to take action and to make a difference in the world. Start this weekend. Volunteer.

Murphy is vice president for government affairs and public policy at Points of Light. Boyd is director of communications and special events at HandsOn Greater DC Cares.