We remember Martin Luther King, Jr., of course, for his extraordinary leadership during the Civil Rights Movement, his insistence that nonviolence could be stronger than brutality, and the moral clarity of his letters and speeches. In fact, his work on behalf of civil rights was so important — and so effective — that we sometimes forget that it was only one front in his fight against injustice, only one part of legacy he leaves behind.
In 1968, just four days before he was killed, Dr. King spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., calling for a new global effort to eliminate poverty. He’d spent the previous year organizing the “Poor People’s Campaign” to demand that the nation address the crushing poverty that still traps so many Americans today. The Day of Service we observe on January 16th reminds us that the work he advanced still continues.
A Day of Service is a fitting tribute to a man who preached that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’” A man who dreamed of an America where his four children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”— but also of an America “where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity.”
When I think about what it means to be an instrument of service, I think about the lessons I learned growing up in Dallas at home and at school. We were a churchgoing family, and my parents believed strongly in Catholic teachings about social justice. They sent me to a Catholic high school where the motto was serviam— I will serve — and taught me to live my faith through action.