As January draws to an end, New Year's resolutions may have already faded from our minds, but a more important resolve for our national consciousness is to remain committed to the community service that is now a central element of our celebration of Dr. King's enormous contributions to the nation.
Congress, in 1994, designated the holiday as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service. In honor of the designation, millions of citizens show up each year in communities all over the country to volunteer, read to a child, paint a classroom and many other vital ways to lend a hand.
President Barack Obama, in a proclamation issued on January 19, called on Americans to commit again to some form of national service. As the President stated:
In sermons and speeches, Dr. King's voice rang out with a call for us to work toward a better tomorrow. As we honor his legacy, Americans across the country will join one another for a day of service, picking up the baton handed to us by past generations and carrying forward their efforts. As one people, we will show when ordinary citizens come together to participate in the democracy we love, justice will not be denied.
President Obama's call for us to come together "as one people" in service to others is nothing less than a clarion call to all of us to keep this spirit alive through the entire year. In a world where we are constantly categorized, niched and otherwise sliced and diced, it is vital to remind ourselves that when we come together as a single nation, indivisible, in service to others, we all benefit.
World War II stands as one of the last times that people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds came together around a shared goal. Subsequent wars have served more to divide our citizens. Moreover, in the 1970's, the draft was eliminated and whatever your opinion on that requirement of public service, it did take away the one chance for men and women to work together in a shared experience toward a common goal.
I am not calling for a return of the draft but I do believe it is up to every one of us to take responsibility for the common good. Today, the shared identity of Americans is tested daily. As our population of citizens grows increasingly diverse, and families too often disperse across the country, the need for a strong shared identity -- tending all that binds us instead of stressing what makes us different -- falls on every one of our shoulders.
Together, we can forge a renewed sense of the American identity rooted in resilience and enriched by an array of skin colors, religions, sexual preferences and ethnic backgrounds.
When you are working side-by-side with another human being, sawing and hammering a new community center, labels vanish. Beneath those different categories, we all share the same sweat, breath and heart that are the hallmarks of a strong American identity.
United We Service, the signature program of The Corporation for National and Community Service, http://www.serve.gov/, offers a wide range of options for national service. As we move into February, let's keep alive this spirit of community and national service. Working together, we can breathe new life into our shared American identity of compassion, service to others and a commitment to the greater good that serves us all.