Thoughts on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

For some reason I had a greater interest in MLK this year and a mission to reflect on his life and consider what his actions/words meant to our country. 

And as I was striving to focus on this being a special day and not just a holiday (which it was not for our family since we all had work or school), my husband was sitting at his desk reading this article, written by Steve Blow, a columnist for The Dallas Morning News.

Ready to serve, nowhere to go

02:35 PM CST on Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tomorrow is the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Big whoop, right?  Now, I don’t mean the slightest disrespect to Dr. King.  But let’s face it, as far as days off from work go, this one just gets lost.  Part of it is simply unfortunate timing.  The day falls right after the extended Christmas and New Year’s holiday season, when we have done more traveling and celebrating and spending than we should.  So we’re all out of money, sick of family, back on a diet and just starting to tolerate our jobs again when – surprise! – here comes a holiday popping up again.  Oh, I’m sure some folks squeeze in a ski trip over the long weekend.  And an admirable few get involved in the usual prayer breakfasts and oratory contests that dutifully mark the day.  But for most of us, the holiday just gets frittered away without either having much fun or paying meaningful tribute to Dr. King.  That’s why I was so excited last year to hear about efforts to transform the holiday into something special, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.  The idea is to make MLK Day different from all other holidays – a day of mass volunteerism and service to the community.  They even have a catchy slogan: “A Day On, Not a Day Off.”I love it.  In fact, I was perturbed that I heard about it too late last year to help publicize the effort.  So I made myself a note for this year to write a column early enough that people could really get plugged into volunteer efforts around town.  Except, guess what?There are none.Well, not none.  I found a handful of small projects.  But clearly, to my distress, there is no grass-roots movement bubbling in Dallas to really change the holiday into a powerful new force for good.

Keven Vicknair feels my pain.  She works at Central Dallas Ministries and was charged with finding a volunteer project for 50 area AmeriCorps workers to tackle tomorrow.

“I went looking to see what was going on around town,” she said. “Nothing.  They just don’t do anything.”

Some organizers at SMU came to her with the same problem – willing workers and nothing to do.  So they teamed up with a Pleasant Grove church to feed the homeless tomorrow.

“We haven’t even got all the pieces nailed down yet,” Keven told me last week, sounding a bit dispirited.

I contacted the Volunteer Center of North Texas, thinking surely it would know of some MLK service projects.  But I heard the same story.

And officials there gave me a surprising explanation for why the MLK Day of Service has not caught on here: Because most of the nonprofit agencies take the day off!

Good grief.  I don’t begrudge anyone a day off.  But that’s like canceling Christmas because Santa Claus needs a holiday.  Sometimes you just have to work.

Done right, the Martin Luther King Day of Service could become a bonanza to nonprofits in town, introducing their work to whole new audiences and whole new teams of volunteers.

Some cities are way ahead of us on making this happen.

Down in Austin, they were set to observe their third annual Martin Luther King Day of Service on Saturday.  Hundreds were expected to turn out for eight different community service projects.

They do it on Saturday because Austin actually celebrates MLK Day in a big way, with thousands turning out for a parade and festival.

Of course, there’s nothing to say that we as individuals can’t tackle some worthy projects tomorrow.

Maybe you know an elderly neighbor who needs some leaves raked.

Maybe you have driven by a litter-strewn corner that could use some attention.

That would be a start.  But how wonderful it would be if all sorts of groups – schools, churches, co-workers, Scouts – began using MLK Day to tackle service projects all over town.

I can’t imagine a better tribute to Dr. King than seeing people of all colors and backgrounds rolling up their sleeves and working side by side.

Maybe next year.


Then my husband did something neither one of us have ever done. 

He wrote that man. 

Dear Mr. Blow,

            Thank you for your column yesterday about the lack of volunteer opportunities on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  It is unfortunate that volunteers willing and able to help could not find a suitable service project to meaningfully commemorate the day.  Fortunately for us, around 30 young people volunteered today with Shoes for Orphan Souls, a program that collects new shoes and socks from individuals and groups across the country and delivers them to orphans and at-risk children worldwide.  Last year, over 6,000 volunteers contributed over 19,000 hours of service to process over 100,000 pair of shoes.  20 of those inviduals served on MLK Day.  Although we enjoy a wonderful partnership with the Volunteer Center of North Texas, chances are we were not on the list of special MLK Day service projects because ours is not a seasonal opportunity – it is ongoing.

            Half a century ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream of justice, love, and reconciliation between races.  Similarly, over a century ago, a man named R.C. Buckner had a dream to minister to “not one orphan child, but all orphan children” when he started Buckner Orphan’s Home in 1879.  Today, Buckner is still engaged in fulfilling this dream.  Like Dr. King’s vision, it cannot be accomplished by just one person.  It requires the collective consciousness – and action – of a committed group of people to realize it.  Our volunteers are the ones who are bringing this into being.

For some this means volunteering one day a week to mentor a child in a local elementary school.  For others it means spending a few hours on a Saturday morning sorting shoes at a warehouse – or traveling to another country to put those shoes on a child’s feet.  For others it means becoming a foster family or an adoptive parent.  These are some of the steps that our volunteers are taking to fulfill this dream.

            Not long ago the president of Buckner challenged our organization and its constituents with a simple, profound question: “What’s your mission?”  He wasn’t referring to Buckner’s mission.  He was referring to our mission – the mission of each one of us.  How many of us have really thought through the mission of our own lives?  Our volunteers have caught at least a glimpse of their own.  And as a result . . . they serve.

I am thankful that they don’t wait for a holiday to do it.









  1. Posted January 22, 2008 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I had not heard of this day of service, but it is a great idea. Dr. King would approve.

  2. Sheli
    Posted January 22, 2008 at 8:55 pm | Permalink


  3. Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing in your blog what you and your husband and the other volunteers did up in Dallas for MLK Day.

    The turnouts for the program in Austin on Saturday, and the March on Monday, were both pretty exceptional considering the cold and rain we are experiencing. Our volunteering director and Hands On Central Texas, Mando Rayo, would be happy to share information about how he was able to put together a successful day of service. Info about last Saturday and Mando’s contact info are at our blog entry…

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