Remember a great legacy and serve others on the day off
Every third Monday of January, Americans remember Martin Luther King Jr., a tradition dating to the first official celebration in 1986, 18 years after his assassination.
The initiative to remember King Jr. on the calendar was not done at the snap of President Reagan’s fingers.
There was extensive debating in Congress, and not until 2000 did all 50 states commemorate the day when Utah finally changed the name of its commemorative “Human Rights Day” to “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.”
In spite of early roadblocks, it exists now. But what is this day’s purpose and who celebrates it?
Googling MLK Day yields results such as the date, Wikipedia’s take on its history, the official .gov site and sites promoting a national day of service.
Perfect. Americans—or at least predictions by Google about what they want to see—reflect a social consciousness surrounding the holiday.
But then another search—this time for MLK Day Sales—generates numerous hits about sales from retail stores planned around a day when students and employees have more time to spend and consume.
In the middle of this litany of MLK Day sales appeared one single article about how the holiday has fallen victim to Americans’ insatiable shopping.
But this article, just like the true reason for celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., is a minor speed bump for those scrolling for unbeatable prices.
Every third Monday of January, Americans remember MLK…with a day off from work and some sales at retail stores.
This growing trend of celebrating history with shopping incentives has not only hijacked MLK’s birthday: Americans also remember our presidents, our veterans and our labor force with discounts on cars, refrigerators and designer clothing.
What does this say about our culture? Some say that the problem is people—that we do not respect our history, our progress or our future.
But I disagree. I think that this may be true in many ways, but cannot be determined based on a growing trend towards devaluing significant days. The problem is distraction.
Ostentatious commercials and gaudy posters advertising shopping are easier to notice and far more glamorous than the suggestion to scale back and serve others.
Sales go on all day, but deciding to spend the day helping the community requires you to meet at Café Nova at 7:45 in the morning. That early meeting alone deters many college students.
Yet people sign up year after year, and the results speak for themselves. Since the Day of Service initiative was signed by President Clinton in 1996, programs including the Greater Philadelphia Area Day of Service, one of the largest in the nation, have brought volunteers together.
Last year alone, the Day of Service boasted 115,000 volunteers who served 113,354 meals to the homeless, sorted and distributed 18,840 books to underserved centers and schools and delivered 15,471 care packages/hygienic kits to those in need.
Every third Monday of January, Americans remember King Jr. by engaging their community and making the day of service a day on, not a day off.
Participating in a day of service to commemorate someone who lived a life of service is reconnecting more and more people each year with the real reason we designate this day to be important.
This raises a pertinent question: why just King Jr.? Labor Day, Veterans Day, Presidents Day…all of these commemorate noble people and causes, all days now marked by beach getaways or a trip to a car dealership.
Perhaps the correlation between King Jr. and a day of obsessive consumerism and laziness is the most glaring example of this travesty, and has motivated people to respond.
And honestly having Labor Day off from work–that one just makes sense. But where is the phone-a-thon raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project on Veteran’s Day?
Where in the political quagmire that our government has become is a bipartisan showing of good will on Presidents Day?
Americans are making progress in actually respecting holidays and moving past the ubiquitous “I consume therefore I am” mentality, but there is still work to be done and expectation to be raised. Participating in a commemorative day of service shouldn’t be commendable and surprising. It should be expected.
I am not a holier—than—thou columnist vilifying people who enjoy one day every few weeks to sleep in. My sophomore year I actually slept straight though the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service.
But I participated in the MLK Day of Service and feel closer to the actual reason to remember King Jr. than I could have if I came home with a little more energy and a new suit. As a generation we can create a legacy of purposeful civic involvement, and save our shopping for another weekend.