Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday
Remember! Celebrate! Act!
A Day On, Not A Day Off
January 19, 2015
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” On the third Monday in January each year, Americans answer that question by coming together on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities. The day represents an opportunity to start the year off right by making a positive impact in one’s community. This short narrative will share information about the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, provide a snapshot of volunteerism in the U.S. and in the Department of Defense, and identify ways you can answer Dr. King’s call to action.
Legislation was signed in 1983, creating a federal holiday honoring the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday in 1994 as a national day of service, and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort. Dr. King is the first African American—and the first non-U.S. president—to have an official legal holiday. During his lifetime, King encouraged all citizens to pursue the purpose and potential of America. He strived to realize the dream of equality and a nation that affords freedom and justice for all. In this spirit, the act of volunteering and helping others realize their potential takes on special significance.
The MLK Day of Service is a way to channel King’s life and teachings into community action. Dr. King encouraged all citizens to apply the principles of nonviolence to make this country a better place to live—popularizing the notion of “The Beloved Community.” In Dr. King’s Beloved Community, people and communities would be united by inclusion, shared prosperity, and peaceful conflict resolution. In the spirit of the Beloved Community, Dr. King’s day of service is an opportunity to live out Dr. King’s life and teachings in communities around the world. Volunteering remains a vibrant part of our Nation’s fabric across generations, enriching both our communities and those who serve.
A 2013 U.S. Department of Labor report found that one in four adults donated time to volunteer organizations. Last year, 62.6 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.9 billion hours. The estimated value of this volunteer service is nearly $175 billion. Members of Generation X (those born from roughly 1965 to 1980) have the highest volunteer rate of any age group. Their volunteer rate has increased steadily over the past 11 years. Over the past six years, volunteering has also increased among teenagers (ages 16-19). Volunteers aged 65 and over spend more time engaging in volunteer activities than any other age group. Working mothers continue to volunteer at a higher rate than the population as a whole.
The Department of Defense values those who volunteer. One of the ways it demonstrates this is by honoring distinguished volunteers with the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. The medal was authorized in 1993 to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Reserve components and is awarded for outstanding and sustained voluntary service to the civilian community. The front of the medal has a five-pointed star with a circular ring over each point; the star, a symbol of the military that also represents outstanding service, is encircled by a laurel wreath, which represents honor and achievement. The reverse has an oak leaf branch, symbolic of strength and potential, with three oak leaves and two acorns along with the inscriptions, “OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER SERVICE,” and “UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.”
If you would like to join the hundreds of thousands of people who serve on MLK Day and throughout the year, find a project in your community or register your own project so that volunteers can find it. Go to Serve.gov for more information.
All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Prepared by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida