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Our Nation, United in Service

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On Monday, all across the country, Americans celebrated, reflected and engaged in service projects in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for justice.

Service is not an act of pity. It is not an act of charity. Service is solidarity -- and each year, on the third Monday in January, Americans unite toward the greater good. As countless communities join together and serve, our country gets stronger, and we prove that an assassination cannot kill the dreams King died for.

I often reflect on those dreams, and a few times each year, I re-read King's writings. His Letter from a Birmingham Jail resonates particularly with me: I'm moved by his insistence that we never get complacent in fighting the status quo. He'd face that complacency head-on a few months later -- the day after his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, a headline was printed in the New York Times, beside celebration of the March on Washington. It read, "Congress Cordial, but Not Swayed."

Change is hard. It is uncomfortable. It's human nature to want to preserve the status quo -- and Congress, in 1963, was holding on to it tightly. What we call the "I Have a Dream" speech today, King had titled "Normalcy, Never Again," and it seemed that "normalcy" was just what our legislators were trying to preserve. King pressed on. His radical acts of extraordinary love -- his bravery and his determination -- eventually made change.

Today, we need courage and leadership to make change and take on the greatest disparities in our nation; almost fifty years after King's death, we've moved past the "normal" of 1963, but we still have a long way to go. This country still faces a stark reality of inequality in income, opportunity, and education, and this breaks America's great promise of "justice for all."

I am proud, then, to be a part of an organization that works, alongside many communities, organizations and individuals, to repair that justice. Yesterday, our staff, corps members, alumni, students and families engaged in service -- in solidarity -- all across the country.

In Connecticut, the Teach for America family embarked on different projects in four different cities -- they led writing workshops, food-bank collection, roundtable discussions and "justice sessions" across the state. In Cincinnati, Teach for America proudly walked in the 39th Annual Commemorative Civil Rights March.

These are just two out of many acts of solidarity and service -- none, by itself, can solve our nation's problems. But they're each a part of what King called the "arc of the moral universe" that "bends towards justice." We must act with commitment -- we will not back down when it's easier to be part of the status quo than to change it. Our children deserve better than that, and it's our job to show the extraordinary love and courage that reinventing "normal" requires.

Reprinted with permission from Teach for America's blog, Pass the Chalk.