This week, community service has been more popular than ever. Monday, millions of Americans from coast to coast joined forces to complete over 11,000 officially-registered community service projects designed to "bridge barriers, strengthen communities, and empower individuals" as part of the 2009 King Day of Service. Although the King Holiday and Service Act was signed more than 14 years ago, this year public involvement in active observances of the holiday doubled 2008 levels. This spike in civic participation is no accident.
President Obama has repeatedly called for our service during his campaign and transition period, and simultaneously pledged to do his part by making service the cause of his presidency. His first action towards that goal has been the creation of USAService.org. Support of President Obama's mission to re-engage Americans in their communities is vast. Service Nation has issued a Declaration of Service, the Huffington Post made service the theme of it's pre-inaugural ball, and MTV has created a Be the Change online community.
While working to clean up Washington DC's Kingman Island with Student Conservation Association on Monday, I spoke with many of my fellow volunteers. They shared their motivations for participating in the King Day of Service, and also overwhelmingly, their optimism for American renewal. Reflecting on the experience, I have reason to renew my optimism as well.
Each of us -- the high school and college students, the backyard conservationists, and the corporate crusaders -- showed up ready to work, and that's exactly what we did. Together, we hauled out countless bags of trash, cleared invasive underbrush that was strangling native species, and helped make the island's trails more accessible for future visitors. By the end of the afternoon, we all enjoyed taking a look back at the difference that we had created. But most importantly, we also recognized the work that was left to be done.
Indeed, there is no shortage of work for us to do in order to create the types of change that our nation needs. We will have to keep this week's spirit of service alive year-round for many years to come in order to address the issues that we face today and mitigate the problems that we will confront tomorrow. It will be up to us to help President Obama deliver the change that his campaign has shown us is possible through a new style of civic participation.
Each of us will have to decide to come together and share responsibility for our future. Through our votes last fall, we have proven to ourselves that "Yes, We Can." Now it is time for us to make a commitment to sustain our efforts to bring about a more perfect union.
We also have to recognize that no one accomplishment, including President Obama's inauguration, can serve as the measure of our success. After this week's celebrations end, we will have to follow Dr. King's example and reinvest our energy and optimism into efforts whose benefits many not be fully seen for many years to come. This week marks the beginning of a new chapter of progress for America, not the end of a previous one.
As President Obama has said, "Our destiny as Americans is tied up with one another." So, now that we know that we can do something about the problems that we face as a nation, it is time for us to decide that yes, we will. We also need to demonstrate that yes, we are.
Yesterday's King Day of Service activities were the first expressions of our willingness to be a part of the change that we desire. But in order to make our dreams a reality, we'll have to continue expressing our desire for change through our actions everyday. This is a task that will require discipline, and a new way of thinking, but I remain optimistic about America's chances to fulfill its promise, and grateful to those who continue to remind us that "Yes, We Can."
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