On June 23, 1963, almost 200,000 people gathered at Detroit’s Great March to Freedom, parading down Woodward Avenue and listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak about the necessity for all races to come together with a dream of being free and equal. A prelude to the infamous August 1963 March on Washington, King focused on eradicating racial inequality, uttering the timeless words:
"…now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to transform this pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our nation."
Almost 46 years later, it is still the time to lift our nation and make real the promises of democracy. Today, January 19, we celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the power of many, as well as the power of service. He knew that if many persons came together as a people, their influence would be magnified, their power heightened.
"This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected." President-Elect Obama
Tomorrow, our nation celebrates the fulfillment of a part of the King legacy that many though might never come, the swearing in of the nation’s first Black President. In Southeast Michigan, and throughout our state and country, people are coming together with the express purpose of serving others and inspiring change. As someone who has dedicated my life to service, I recognize the urgent importance of building a culture of service. Today’s economic climate has left many with less, and even more with little to nothing. As I wrote yesterday, nonprofits are feeling this increase in demand, but it is through service that we can help move missions forward for so many nonprofits by giving of our time, talent and treasure.
The University of Michigan-Dearborn, in collaboration with Lawrence Tech University, Madonna University and Henry Ford Community College, are celebrating the call to service by holding a weeklong celebration of the King Day of Service. This morning, students from each campus are heading out to 19 separate service sites throughout Southeast Michigan to work with and serve their community members. Activities range from cleaning shelters to building housing to packing food to painting schools. Participants in the Day of Service will work through until the afternoon, at which time many groups reflect on the day’s activities.
Although today is a Day of Service, we must not forget the challenges our volunteers face each day to make a commitment to service. Higher cost of living expenses are making it difficult for volunteers to maintain their level of involvement. To ease this burden, I encourage employers to provide volunteer opportunities for their employees, and I encourage nonprofit leaders to provide incentives and support to retain volunteers in future years, and promote and instill the ethic of lifelong giving.
In 2008, over one-half million people across the country chose not to take the day off, but to take the day on. It is my hope that even more people will choose to help their fellow citizens – not only on this celebrated holiday, but regularly. Today, I challenge you to incorporate service into your life. I challenge you to take time out of your week and make your community a better place. Although we may be past the primary battles that Martin Luther King, Jr. chose to fight, we’re still "moving up the highway of freedom toward the city of equality, and we can’t afford to stop now because our nation has a date with destiny. We must keep moving." We must keep moving if we hope to strengthen our communities, empower ourselves and others, and bridge the barriers we see. How will you keep moving?
For more information on how to volunteer in your community, visit the Volunteer Centers of Michigan website at www.mivolunteers.org to find you local volunteer center or visit the Michigan Association of United Ways website at www.uwmich.org to find your local United Way.