Many employees across the U.S. eagerly look forward to Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day. Is that because of the day’s rich meaning, history and purpose? Sometimes. But sometimes, it’s because it’s the first federal holiday of the calendar year, and, for companies (like Ketchum) that give employees the day off, it feels like a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of returning to work after the haze of holiday season.
But how many people know that MLK Day is the only federal holiday that is observed as a national day of service? The Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS)—the federal agency that oversees service efforts across the nation—has issued a call of action to make January 20, 2020 “a day on, not a day off”—an opportunity to remember Dr. King and show gratitude for the ways in which he taught us all to stand for more than ourselves by giving back to our communities. In other words, a chance to be a Force for Good (which is one of Ketchum’s key values).
I admit that I myself have often been guilty of taking MLK Day for granted, particularly in my teens and 20s, when thinking beyond myself was not a consistent priority. Does that mean I haven’t always known about or felt Dr. King’s impact? Absolutely not. As a black woman, Dr. King has been a part of my life’s curriculum since before I could fully grasp what he meant to this country. Having spent my formative years in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA—Dr. King’s birthplace—his influence on my life and worldview was prevalent early on. His heart and spirit are etched across the city, from his birth home on Auburn Avenue, Ebenezer Baptist Church where his grandfather and father were pastors and he gave sermons and speeches, to the King Center, his alma mater Morehouse College, and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and beyond.
His spirit also lives on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where, on August 28, 1963, he gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of more than 200,000 people. As a child, my mother surprised my sisters, my cousins and me with a surprise family trip to visit the Capitol. After a snack break on the steps of the Smithsonian (photo below), we visited the Memorial. We were in awe of the space, drunk on the history of it all. I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old, but I was keenly aware that Dr. King had been there, as my grandmother would say, “long before I had even been thought of.” He had been there calling out for change and acceptance with hope at the core.
As I’ve matured, I’m recognizing more and more the power MLK Day has to teach and empower us all. Fast forward to the 2017 Women’s March when my friends and I joined hundreds of thousands of Americans in D.C. As we made our way to the stage area before the break of dawn, drinking in the beauty of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool as we prepped for what we were certain would be another historic day, I was reminded again of what Dr. King gave us. He fought for equal rights, acceptance, and so much more. He implored us to come together, stand together and service our communities. He showed us that we had work left to do to reach a day in which—in his own historic words—“we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together,” and ultimately, “stand up for freedom together.”
Almost 57 years since Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I’m so much more aware of the work left to do, and grateful for that knowledge. For myself and my family, it is a holiday we’ve begun spending together in recent years. This year, we’re making it a “day on” by teaching our children more about Dr. King, his legacy, and his profound impact on our country. We will also plant the seeds of community and service, too, so the future can be as bright as possible.
How will you make it a “day on” by being a Force for Good? Be the action you take big or small, anything you do to teach, inspire and give back to others on MLK Day 2020 will be a much-needed act of service in bringing us all together.