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The Legacy of a Civil Rights Leader Inspires a Day of Service Across the United States

More than 70 volunteers, including several families with young children, met in Lynnwood, Washington for a Day of Service honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 21. The project, including the beautification of a local park, cleaning buses for the senior home, and creating motivational posters for a local elementary school, was organized by Global Peace Foundation (GPF) and the City of Lynnwood.

Volunteers gather for a day of service in Lynnwood, Washington

Dr. King was an icon of the Civil Rights movement who transformed the hearts of all people to recognize their innate connectivity as part of the human family. Every third Monday of January, the nation pays tribute to his life through sharing about its history and the impact Dr. King has made. While many pay tribute to his life, others honor his legacy through service, turning their day off into a day on.

One of Dr. King's most notable quotes that is often used to honor his legacy is “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” He recognized that our humanness is rooted in values that we share despite our different cultural, religious and racial backgrounds. In this case, service is the best representation of our most noble qualities that is recognized by all people.

Community members get to know each other during the MLK Day of Service

Kimihira Miyake, program specialist for GPF, said the annual event is not only an opportunity for people to connect with others in their community they do not know, but also to share in the spirit of overcoming barriers of culture, race, and other forms of diversity towards a common goal.

“For the most part, Dr. King’s life was really all about building a community, getting to know your neighbor,” he said. “And I think that’s something we don’t do as often.”

Miyake said it is events like the Day of Service that allow people the opportunity to challenge themselves by meeting people from different backgrounds and forming bonds.

“He went across racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds,” Miyake said. “I think we can encourage you to make a relationship with someone new today.”

A local mother who brought her two sons to the project recognized the unique platform that this day represents. In Lynnwood, on this day, all different people came together, from different ethnic and racial communities, young and old, parents with their children, government officials and nonprofit organizations to serve a common cause.

Removing invasive plants at local park
Volunteers of all ages help remove invasive species at a community park

Hayden Tran from Edmonds Community College highlighted his experience in Lynnwood, Washington. “I really enjoyed working on this project. I got to have a chance to talk to people that I never imagine having a conversation with. Dr. King tried to unite people from different communities within this diverse society. He didn’t express hatred on any community, but instead sought to unite them all together.”

It was a conscious understanding in all of the volunteers this day that the work to bring the human family closer together lays in their own hands. Naomi Mayoya, student from University of Washington Seattle, said “Dr. King devoted years to bringing people together—those who don’t know one another and create some connection as humans, as brothers and sisters.” She added, “I learned about how diverse people are, and that people are meant to help each other to complement or fill what others lack.”

Mayor Nicola Smith at the MLK Day of Service in Lynnwood

Dr. King understood the everyday effort it takes to build peace and the need for moral leadership. He said, “We are not responsible for the environment we are born in, neither are we responsible for our hereditary circumstances. But there is a third factor for which we are responsible namely, the personal response which we make to these circumstances.”

At a time when the divisions within this nation seems to widen, stories like these demonstrate the efforts made by everyday people who bridge those divides to realize the long-sought aspiration ingrained in the US seal, “e pluribus unum” of making “out of many, one.” 

Mayor of Lynnwood, Nicola Smith, highlighted the spirit of service and perserverance with a quote from Dr. King saying, “Life for none of us has been a crystal stair, but we must keep moving. We must keep going. And so, if you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

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