We expect parades, concerts, TV specials and community events on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s National Day of Service. If we truly want to honor King, we will show up not on just one day, but will follow his legacy of service everyday.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday was first celebrated as a federal holiday in 1986 after 32 years of campaigning at local and national levels. It later became the national Martin Luther King Day of Service when former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
His most popular “I Have a Dream” speech galvanized the civil rights movement, but my favorite King speech is the Feb. 4, 1968 sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct”. In it he said
“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
If King’s call to serve has a familiar ring, it’s because the same message echoes throughout history.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10
If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.’
If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.
The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.
Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
John F. Kennedy 1961 inaugural address
Nothing liberates our greatness like the desire to help, the desire to serve.
Serving others is easy.
You don’t have to go far nor do you need loads of skill or buckets of talent. Connecting with an established charity, church or other community groups can do enormous good and be gratifying for you, even if you work with them only occasionally throughout the year.
In every age group from premature newborns to senior citizens are people longing for conversation, a visit or a touch. Local and global groups can help you find people in one of these groups if you are drawn to serve one of them.
Serving others is accessible.
One neighborhood rallied around to help each other when someone was recovering from illness and needed a hot meal or were unable to drive and needed transportation to medical or other appointments.
Serving others is contagious.
When I owned a gift basket business, the owner of a customized cookie company recognizing that I was new to the business took time from working in her booth at the California Gift Show to sit me down and give me some great marketing advice.
Her spontaneous and generous mentoring inspired me to help other aspiring entrepreneurs through a nationwide network, a newsletter and speaking to small business groups in my community.
Serving others is mutually beneficial.
Research has caught up with ancient wisdom. Scientific studies and positive psychology have toppled some of the myths we have about what makes us happy. What is consistent among the findings is we increase our own happiness by expressing gratitude and helping others. If you are curious to find out where you stand on gratitude and assess your level of happiness, take one of the many free questionnaires on Authentic Happiness.
Serving others is most powerful when it extends beyond one day.
Many communities and organizations used the National Day of Service as the kickoff day for extended service
- A Massachusetts program launches a weeklong service project healthy snacks to nearby schools
- Volunteers from Southern California Kaiser Permanente are offering month-long activities ranging from food banks to blood drives to planting community gardens.
King filled a void when he spoke out for justice and freedom. I encourage you to fill a void in the niche you serve and show flair and style in the life you live.
Let the way you earn your living also enable you to serve others. Even if you are working on a job that is just a temporary stop along the way to your ideal career, give your sincere effort and best service, not just for others, but for yourself as well.
To serve, as King points out, all you need is a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. Thankfully, these things are within everyone’s reach. To tap into them all you have to do is go within, believing that they are yours.
Let the National Martin Luther King Day of Service be a reminder to start your daily activities from your heart and soul, and carry out all your interactions with integrity and joy.
How do you plan to honor King’s legacy throughout the year?