Monday, January 17, 2011

Aug. 28, 1963: MLK’s day of service

On Nov. 2, 1986, when President Reagan signed into law the measure commemorating the third Monday in January as a national holiday, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, it marked an emotional and spiritual turning point for African Americans. It was the realization of a long-cherished dream; an indelible manifestation of equality, a black name and face in the pinnacle calendar of national observance. There’s been nothing of its majesty and impact since then — except the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States.

Now, 25 years later, the King holiday is much like and unlike any other on the calendar. There are the usual shutdowns we expect for a federal holiday — banks closed, no mail, buses and transit on a holiday schedule. But President Obama again called on Americans to use it as a national “day of service,” and many did their bit, planting flowers and shrubs, helping neighbors, and honoring King in various ways. In southeast Washington, D.C., they marched through the snow to honor King. In Ocoee, Fla., they couldn’t hold a planned MLK parade outside because of the rain, so they moved the festivities inside. Americans everywhere found a way to do their own right thing.

We get so blasé about watching Air Force One arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, or Marine One departing the White House lawn, sometimes it doesn’t fully register who it is getting on and off those perks of the highest elective office in the world. An African American is the leader of the free world.

It’s so easy to forget who helped make that possible.

We get so caught up in our own days of service — to ourselves — we forget about service to others. In the crush of the here & now, we can forget whose shoulders we stand on, those whose days of service never ended, long after their days of life did.

Let this jog your memory. And your conscience.

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