MLK (not just) a Day of Service

Greater Kansas City - MLK Day 2014 - Sunflower House - David (3)

Martin Luther King Day of Service always provides an excellent time to reflect on a life of service. For me, the experience of serving with so many other individuals reminds me of the good in the world, and that individuals can work together for a better community.

I am ashamed to admit, although service has been a large part of my life since I was young, I have never participated in MLK Day of Service until this year. I had no clue when I left for my volunteer projects with Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater Kansas City that I would witness so many people making the choice to serve. When I left to help sort food for families in need at the local food bank, I had to park three blocks away because of all the people out and ready to put their hands to good use.

At the local YVCKC office, I witnessed a packed room of families searching to find the right words to put into handmade cards that might sooth the pains of children receiving treatment at the local hospital—and soothe the minds of those children’s families. One young man wrote a simple, yet touching, message that people in this world are thinking of you.

It was a beautiful sight to see. Not only the youth of YVC, but individuals everywhere, were taking the time to give back.

Kansas City - MLK Day at Harvesters

About halfway through the day I began to think about a Day of Service, and wonder what would Martin Luther King Jr. think about this day? MLK who dedicated his life to service and bettering the community for all. MLK who said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” I am sure he would be pleased to see the community coming together to address these broader concerns. It is certainly a start.

But in the end, one day of service is not really enough. Individuals in this community, and communities throughout the United States, do not only require support one or two days of service throughout the year. According to the most recent release of information from the United States Census Bureau 46.5 million people are living at or below the poverty line, with African Americans experiencing the highest poverty rate at 27.2%. Crippling poverty is a real struggle every day. For this, I believe Martin Luther King Jr. would not be proud, but we have the power not only to give our hands and our hearts one or two days of service a year. We have the power to dedicate ourselves to our communities and really work toward making a difference.

So do not let this last MLK day be the end of your service until next year, but the spark that ignites a lifelong dedication to the community in which you live. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Now that MLK day has passed, let’s not forget we have the power to address the broader concerns of humanity and continue into a life, not only a day, of service.

Kirsten Overby is YVC’s AmeriCorps VISTA Development & Marketing Coordinator. She spent MLK Day 2014 serving with YVCKC, making cards for families of hospitalized children and sorting food at the local food bank.