January 15th is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and January 20th will mark the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday. Congress designated the holiday in 1994 as a day of service, asking Americans to observe it as a “day on– not a day off” in honor of King’s words, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”
Turning the day into one of service honors Dr. King’s legacy in a special way with numerous community projects taking place across the country, including weatherizing homes, beautifying schools, serving meals, and supporting veterans and military families. By turning the observance into a day of service, we advance Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of economic opportunity, equality, and social justice for all. By serving others, we empower each other and ourselves. We strengthen our communities by building bridges and creating solutions to social problems that allow us to work together toward Dr. King’s idealistic vision for the kind of society we are capable of building.
Dr. King would have turned 85 years old on January 15, a milestone year. Though his time with us was too brief, the wisdom of the messages he brought forth as a young man still hold today.
He believed freedom was the one thing worth dying for, and ultimately, this freedom is what our veterans and our soldiers have served to protect. He believed that love could overcome hate, that justice required sacrifice, and that faith is the equalizer that surmounts all controversy.
Now more than ever, amid the worst recession since the Great Depression, we must take to heart Dr. King’s teachings to work together to achieve this dream. Duty to country knows only three colors— red, white and blue— and those who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces have truly served us all and earned the honored title of “Veteran.”
Dr. King never served in the military, but he commanded an army of Americans dedicated to fulfilling our country’s highest ideal— that all men and all women are created equal; an ideal forged in the heat of battle here at home in the struggle for civil rights and around the world in wars against tyranny and oppression. And he died for his commitment to this ideal.
“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live,” King said, understanding— as every Veteran understands— that freedom is not free. His strength and purpose are matched by those of the veterans we serve, representing Americans of all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. The key to our success is our diverse workforce with Americans from every racial and ethnic group finding increasing opportunities to serve veterans in rewarding and fulfilling careers throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dr. King’s highest goal was to make all of us better than we are, and to help us realize our highest possibilities as individuals and as a people. He fought so hard and died to improve our nation— and may we soon share the radiant vision of unity he so wanted us to see.
Dennis H. Smith
VA Maryland Health Care System