The following is a reflection written by John Albrecht, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.
“Do you think doing a day of service is the best way to honor the memory of Dr. King?” This question was posed by one of my housemates, Rae, who enjoys asking thought provoking questions.
According to mlkday.gov, the holiday was signed into being in 1983 and made a National Day of Service in 1994, just 11 years later. It is the only federal holiday with this designation. The idea of MLK Day as a ‘National Day of Service’ is a new concept to me and I did not even know that there was such a designation. For many of my peers and me, it was just a day we got off school in honor of some distant, historical figure. I doubt this is a way Dr. King (or any historical figure) would want to have his life and vision remembered. This is why MLK Day was made a National Day of Service.
Now is doing a day of service the best way to honor the memory of Dr. King? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~Aristotle
If we take one day out of the year to volunteer, an act, then I would say no. In this context, the day was merely a time to hear overplayed and decontextualized soundbites and do relatively easy work so we could feel good about ourselves. But, if we use it as a way to remind ourselves of the mission of Rev. King and rededicate ourselves to ideas we strive to live each day, a habit, then I would say a day of service is a true way to honor the memory of Dr. King.
“But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” ~Paul
Initially I did not want to write this blog. It’s not that I’m incapable, I simply felt I had nothing significant to say on the matter. I spent most of my time whitewashing part of a hallway. It’s not particularly difficult and it doesn't stand out. I worked by myself and did not get very conversational with those around me: not the best example of service.
Paul’s works on the body from his first letter to the Corinthians (12:12-30) offered me some insight into the importance of whitewashing. If the paint around a mural is splotchy or chipping away, it detracts from the whole. If a mural’s background is even and smooth, it may not be noticed, but it enhances the whole.
Most of us will not end up with a high profile life such as Dr. King Jr. and it is easy to dismiss our labors as menial or worthless, as I felt about whitewashing. But our work and our life is as important as the work and lives of the great historical people who have come before us and continue to lead us.
Amate House Volunteers Matt Cunnane, Kara Olenick, and Nick Hammond participate in a CityYear-sponsored MLK Day of Service Event at Lafayette Elementary School.