The benefits of giving to others
● By J. Chambless
The spirit of service that is part of the national obsevance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is becoming an indelible legacy of the civil rights pioneer.
It's worthwhile to recall that a federal holiday in honor of King was signed into law only in 1986. The rollout of the holiday was anything but smooth, and several states balked at instituting the day, or marked it in different ways. After a decade, the holiday was in danger of becoming indistinct, or just another day off of school or work. The idea to designate it as a national day of service began in 1994 under former Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis. The federal legislation was signed by Bill Clinton in 1994.
The Pennsylvania connection to the day is strongest in Philadelphia, where the Day of Service is the largest event in the nation in King's honor. In Chester County, the day was marked on Monday by parents and children, teachers and administrators, ordinary people and those who serve the community every day.
Turning King's birthday into a day to share with others could not be more appropriate. It's hard to look down on the poor when you are called to help them. It's hard to ignore those of other ethnicities when you are working side by side with them. It's hard to hate when you realize how much we have in common.
The service projects organized through area schools are a tremendous unifying force that pays dividends to those who donate, and to those who receive the community's help. Children who take part in the Day of Service this year, and the year after, and the year after that, will come to see it as a normal routine. Giving should be a natural part of life, and not just one day a year. By bringing together community support programs and the community at large, the Day of Service reminds us that caring about others is everyone's responsibility.
The smiles and eager participation of everyone at Monday's many service projects was a warm reminder that people are essentially good. For King, who struggled so valiantly against ignorance and intolerance, bringing people together, eye to eye, was an essantial part of his mission.
We are far from united in this nation, but the reminder we get in the middle of January each year is a refreshing glimpse of the way life should be. We would all be better if we honored Dr. King by sharing every day.