The holiday season has just passed, and for many, the spirit of giving has gone by the wayside as the focus on New Year’s resolutions, budgets, and day-to-day living becomes the main goal. January 20, 2014 will be the Annual MLK Day of Service in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During a Google search, I found a story about Bloomington, IN urging its residents to a year-long call to service.
The Ark Association, an organization I co-founded, recently held our 13th annual “Takin’ Christmas to the Streets” at Roosevelt Park. One of our first-time volunteers, T.R. Walker Montague, wrote about her experience on Facebook. You can read the entire post on The Ark’s page, but I have included a portion of it here because of several of her statements and the ending question: why are we not just a holiday affair?
My highlight of 2013: It was a cold and rainy December day… Walking toward the crowd, I noted their faces…. Some emitted gratitude while others stood silently awaiting their turn. Yet, each person I encountered greeted me with a smile and a friendly “Good afternoon” as I passed by. When I entered the tent…. I quietly observed the expressions of each person dining on their feast. Many folks were happy to have company to chat with, others were giving hugs to those they knew, and some looked away as if hiding their shame in plain sight. However, I never felt out of place because the atmosphere was cheerful, welcoming and, best of all, filled with love. I had never experienced anything quite like it, and I wished it could be everyday instead of only one day far removed from many. As a volunteer, I was glad to refill drinks so the guests could enjoy their meals, share their stories, and participate in friendly conversations. I liked the idea that I was the one serving them without their need to ask. It was their day to forget about where their next meal was coming from or how they were going to find the money to provide for their families… Consequently, an older woman walked up to me and another volunteer and said, “You all are a blessing. We could not survive without folks like you.” My eyes welled with tears as she spoke, and I knew then I had been a part of something extraordinary. …. the deepest parts of my soul were touched that day by strangers I’d never met with hearts as big as a train station and faces I will never forget.…. I now have a full understanding of why community is so important, yet I am keenly aware of how little exists these days. I can see how togetherness can sustain societies and improve their survival. I truly believe that it takes a village, so why are we not doing more for each other instead of against one another?
Creating a lifetime of service requires much more than a national presidential mandate made in 1994. Dr. King developed his ideology while watching his father serve as pastor for their church family and be active in the community. Children learn what they live. My mother, Catherine Robak, instilled a sense of community in me as a child. I grew up watching her help neighbors in need, step up to be a Girl Scout leader, and have so many kids calling her “Mom” at Northland Roller Rink. At 79, she is still actively serving the community and participates in the “Takin’ It to the Streets” outreach once a month, collecting donations from her neighbors and assisting some of the other seniors at her apartments with rides, shopping, or a friendly visit. She is my hero and inspiration for a life of service.
While Dr. King preached about justice, empowerment, love, and peace, in the final months of his life, his attention was turned to fighting poverty. Sadly, more Americans live in poverty today than during Dr. King’s lifetime. Forty-seven million Americans currently fall below the poverty line. The MLK Day of Service is but a small step to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems. It will take a lifetime commitment of service to create and sustain the social changes that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions. Then we will see Dr. King’s dream become a reality!