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Martin Luther King, Jr. and His National Day of Service

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This Monday, we will celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. The holiday commemorates his life and work, which he dedicated to the service of others, not only as a pastor, but also as a civil rights activist. He administered to people’s spiritual lives, naturally, but he also gave people practical aid in times of need and distress.

Close-up black and white photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr. leaning forward over a podium
Martin Luther King press conference / [MST] Trikosko, Marion S., photographer [1964 Mar. 26.] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
With his commitment to service in mind, the federal holiday that was established in 1983 was transformed a decade later to be a holiday and a National Day of Service. Every year on the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King’s National Day of Service is designated as “a day on, not a day off”. Coretta Scott King said, “The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.” It is the only national service holiday. Americans are encouraged to honor Dr. King’s life and service by serving others and their communities.

Dr. King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  If you are looking for a service opportunity to celebrate this holiday, you can find more information at AmeriCorps, the only federal agency that works for community service and volunteerism.


KF27.P632 1988j  United States. Congress. House. Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. Subcommittee on Census and Population. Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday Commission Extension Act : hearing before the Subcommittee on Census and Population of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, House of Representatives, One Hundredth Congress, second session on H.R. 4443 … August 2, 1988.

KF26.J8 1994b United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. The King Holiday and Service Act of 1993 : hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Third Congress, second session on S. 774 … April 13, 1994.


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  1. Thank you for a wonderful reminder that service is the best way to honour Rev. King and celebrate the holiday! For those who are unable to join a service project due to location, weather, health, family or work commitments, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for this day (or later this week):
    1) Write a letter or email urging your elected official to vote for bills about poverty, hunger, housing, wages, non-violence, etc. in ways that honour Dr. King.
    2) Make a plan to use a gift or skill at least once this year to benefit your community (art, music, healing, hospitality, technology, financial donation, prayer…)
    3) Be inspired by reading or hearing Dr. King’s powerful words! Then pass it on to someone else.
    4) Talk with an elder about their memories of Dr. King. (Listen with an open heart, especially if they admit they did not react well during his lifetime.)
    Now add a comment with your own ideas for “A Day on, not a Day off!”

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