"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke those words from the pulpit of a Baptist church in 1957, he reminded us of the greatest hallmark of our American democracy: that we are here to lift each other up.
Which is what makes Martin Luther King Day so inspiring. It has become a living legacy of Dr. King's heart, because the day has evolved into a time of citizen action and volunteer service in support of our fellow Americans.
What a fitting tribute to Dr. King. What a noble way to honor his life.
For all our political bickering, Americans have always pulled together in times of adversity. From wars to natural disasters to acts of terrorism, we have consistently demonstrated that ours is a collective survival, an idea that was born more than two centuries ago by the Founders themselves. And so it is both hopeful and right that on Martin Luther King Day, we seek out those who are disadvantaged -- those who are struggling, those who need our help -- and offer to lend a hand.
Over the years, Americans have shown the breadth of their compassion and ingenuity as they volunteer a day of service in memory of Dr. King's birth and life. Like the melting pot that we are, participants in Martin Luther King Day represent all ages, all races and all cultures -- and the work they have done has been lasting.
• Like in Bethesda, Maryland, where, in 2013, Martin Luther King Day volunteers assembled Meals on Wheels for the impoverished, and created blankets for the local hospice at a volunteer fair, organized by Youth Service America;
• Or in Seattle, Washington, where hundreds of volunteers helped conduct fire-safety programs in at-risk neighborhoods;
• Or in Sacramento, California, where the Service for Peace organization recruited volunteers at a local park, where they cleaned graffiti and tended to young trees;
• Or in Austin, Texas, where the Cesar Chavez Foundation hosted a day of service in which both kids and adults helped to plant onions and leeks for the hungry in Central Texas;
• Or here in New York and New Jersey, where AmeriCorps members led volunteers in an en-masse effort to muck out scores of homes that had suffered flooding during Hurricane Sandy;
• Or in Washington, D.C., where, in 2013, volunteers assembled 100,000 care kits for veterans, wounded warriors, and active service members; and where the president himself -- who began his public service career as a community organizer -- helped paint the walls of the city's only emergency shelter for homeless teenagers.
All of us need to find an event in our communities this year, where we can join hands in honoring Dr. King -- and our country -- with a day of service. As we all know, there is no sacrifice in giving -- just the reward of helping someone in need.
As Dr. King once noted, "An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity. Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment."
Happy Martin Luther King Day, America.