In the Light of Altruism: MLK Day of Service

 An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all 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. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?
- Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama

On Monday, January 16th, the U.S. will observe the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. This year is its 18th year under that designation. And it’s these words that continue to reverberate:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”

Nonprofits, local service organizations, foundations and governmental organizations are writing articles and blog posts galore—simply Google “MLK Day of Service” or check the #MLKday hashtag on Twitter. There’s so much good storytelling and do-gooding, in fact, that we’re highlighting three in-depth, multi-faceted articles that give an unusual insight into MLK Day.

A Snapshot of How MLK Day Came to Be

How Gil Scott-Heron and Stevie Wonder set up Martin Luther King Day – The Guardian

In an extract from his memoir, Gil Scott-Heron talks about touring with Stevie Wonder to establish Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday in the U.S.

“Yeah, this piece of legislation to make King’s birthday into a national holiday looked like a long shot…[but] why would the next one of us feel that he or she should make the effort, marshal the strength and somehow fortify him or herself against the opposition that always seemed stronger, if even a man who won the Nobel peace prize was ignored where those efforts for peace had done the most good?”

MLK’s No-Frills Legacy, Today

On Martin Luther King Day, Remember the Message, Not the Monument – Washington Post

An excerpt from a sermon to be given by Rev. William Lamar, who is deeply inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.—but isn’t moved to action by stone memorials or the “santaclausification” of MLK.

 ”A frozen Martin Luther King is not what we need. A sweet, saccharine a historical Martin Luther King is not what we need. We need the King who died unpopular among blacks and whites because he was more concerned with truth and justice than popularity and access…We need the King who knew that the parched land of America needed the waters of justice in order to bloom into what the founders envisioned even in their brokenness.”

The Light of Altruism: What it Means to Serve

Making Volunteering More Popular By Making It More Relevant – Co.Exist

The founder of an online pro bono service provider talks about why fewer Americans are volunteering—and how to make volunteering and serving more rewarding. 

“This past year, the President spent a day painting a school during MLK Day, the nation’s official National Day of Service. It’s pretty cool that the President would leave the Oval Office, roll up his sleeves, and pick up a paint brush. But the president is not a painter. Wouldn’t it be better if he applied the skills he actually uses as the president (negotiation, public speaking, leadership, management, etc.) to any of our neediest nonprofits?…Why, then, do we equate service to picking up a paint brush?” 

Search for opportunities to serve on MLK Day:

  • For opportunities to serve on MLK day, check out Volunteer Match
  • For opportunities to donate pro-bono services, check out Catchafire 

Images courtesy