'What are you doing for others?': Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy lives during day of service
Gladys Rojas is executive director of the Comunidad Latina de Washington County. She said observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day through volunteerism is a perfect fit for Comunidad Latina, as all of the organization¿s workers are volunteers. (By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer / January 19, 2013)
A 6-year-old black child was spit upon by a New Orleans mob because she wanted to go to the same school as white children.
Blacks could not eat at lunch counters or use whites-only restrooms. There were separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites and black balconies in movie theaters, which also had separate stairways. And in some parts of the South, blacks were ordered to get off the sidewalk and stand in the street if a Caucasian walked by.
But a minister named Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that all Americans could be equal. And he delivered his message through nonviolent action — organizing marches and boycotts and delivering inspirational speeches.
Although thousands of men and women worked hard to bring down institutional racism in the United States, it is impossible to think of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s without King at its helm.
King's assassination in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 didn't end the work he had undertaken. Instead, he continued to inspire people from all walks of life to work together to solve both local and national problems.
As America celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 21, millions of people will reflect on the life and accomplishments of the late civil rights leader.
But they also will be asked to answer what King called, life's most persistent question: "What are you doing for others?"
That is the basis for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service — an annual national event that encourages Americans to take a day on, not a day off.
In 1994, the U.S. Congress designated the federal holiday as a day of service and charged the Corporation for National Community Service with leading the effort.
According to the corporation, the day is designed to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move closer to King's vision of "a beloved community."
As they have in the past, hundreds of volunteers from Washington County will participate in this year's event, hoping to do their part to improve the lives of their neighbors.
Helping to organize this year's local effort is Bernadette Wagner, co-director of Volunteer Washington County, a clearinghouse for all aspects of area volunteerism.
According to Wagner, who is also host of HMTV6's "Reach Out," the day will provide individuals, government agencies, nonprofits and businesses "a chance to share their time, talents and treasure by responding to Dr. King's call to serve."
Among those who will be participating in "Day of Service" are volunteers with the Comunidad Latina de Washington County (Latin Community of Washington County).
Executive Director Gladys Rojas said four individuals from the organization will be painting the conference room at the offices of the American Red Cross of Washington County in Hagerstown.
The volunteers will be in their 20s and 30s, she said —individuals who were not yet born when Martin Luther King Jr. marched for social justice. But that doesn't mean they don't understand the significance of the day.
"The MLK Day of Service is a moment to work together to fulfill Dr. King's dream of a better America — his dream of an interracial and intercultural nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation," Rojas said. "And that is exactly the kind of nation that we want to help build — a nation where we all can live with values of equality, tolerance, hope and love. MLK's dream is very alive for Latinos. His dream for this nation is our dream, too."
Rojas said Comunidad Latina de Washington County, whose office is in downtown Hagerstown, was formed to actively and proactively address the needs of the approximately 5,300 Latinos who live in Washington County.