Celebrate MLK Day and National Day of Service by volunteering locally

Published 12:18 pm Monday, January 15, 2024

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Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in the Daily News in January of 2023. It has been modified.

By Leesa Jones, For Washington Daily News

On Monday, January 15th, our nation will observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor and celebrate the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a ‘National Day of Service’ to encourage Americans to volunteer to improve their communities and seek ways to strengthen, educate, advocate and work towards equity, dignity and justice for all people.

Dr. Kings’ birthdate is January 15th due to an act of Legislature named the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established guidelines that certain holidays take place on Mondays.  Because of this, we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday on the third Monday in January.  The same Legislature made Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday in 1983, and by 2000 it was fully observed in all fifty states.  Since then, Dr. MLK Jr. Day of Service has grown, and its major impact has expanded and become truly significant.   

More and more Americans have embraced the idea that citizenship involves taking active roles in improving and strengthening community bonds.  These bonds reach across racial and economic lines. These efforts mirror and aligns the efforts to create the Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community, where he believed communities across America could create more equitable and dignified opportunities for all people. That the beloved community would seek ways to build on the vision that social justice and equity with dignity, could ensure that all people would have rights that gave justice for all, not just one group of oppressed people.  Dr. King believed the Beloved Community was possible and was part of the dream he envisioned.

Dr. King spoke often of the Beloved Community during his lifetime of activism and fueled his beliefs with hope and his faith that such a community was possible.  The term ‘Beloved Community’ was first used by Theologian Josiah Rice in the early 1900’s, when he used the phrase to give the idea that people have the power and potential to unify across many divides.  

Dr. King also respected the Hebrew teaching he learned about called ‘Tikkun Olam’ which simply put, is that we could learn from Jewish people ‘that we are called on to make the world more just, peaceful, tolerant and equal through acts of charity, kindness and political action.  Dr. King as he was a powerful voice against racism and civil rights in our country, was also an important ally in the fight against antisemitism and had a unique and close bond with the Jewish community and Israel.  His ‘I Have A Dream Speech’ embodies so many wonderful ideals that are the hallmark of the Beloved Community.

This MLK Jr, holiday, I encourage you to find a place to volunteer and strengthen our communities. The Washington/Beaufort County area has many organizations that need your help. They are too numerous to mention here, but a quick Google search will afford you many places that need your time, kindness and monetary donations.  Each one can reach people with just the smallest act of love and care.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.