Inquirer Editorial: King Day again time to reflect

Posted: January 21, 2013

It's fitting that the annual observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth and the inauguration of President Obama for a second term are occurring on the same day.

Four years ago, America's inauguration of its first black president brought great optimism about a post-racial era. And indeed, the United States has made significant progress toward being the colorblind society King envisioned in his "I Have a Dream" speech 50 years ago from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

But most reasonable people would agree that there are more steps to be taken in ensuring that character, not skin color, is the dominant means by which people are judged.

America today remains racially divided - in many of its schools, neighborhoods, and churches. Politically, too, and on key social issues, it's often easy to divide the country by race. That's because despite the obvious progress made in almost every endeavor, minorities face many of the same challenges, albeit to a lesser degree, that spurred King to march and boycott for change.

African Americans are still disproportionately represented in statistics on poverty, violence, crime, unemployment, poor health care, and failing schools. Having a black president hasn't made these vestiges of past discrimination magically disappear,

So as Obama takes the oath, with an inaugural theme of "Our People, Our Future," and as he places his hand on Bibles that belonged to King and Abraham Lincoln, his thoughts will likely focus on a personal mission rooted in his own racial heritage as well as an overarching duty to make this nation better for everyone - regardless of skin color or station.

Obama has asked Americans to continue a tradition that has endured for a number of years now to honor King's memory with voluntary service.

King Day is is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. That's fitting in commemorating a man who gave his life for the sake of others.

Speeches and parades are nice, too, but seeing people commit to spending time helping others creates a stronger bond to King's work more than 50 years ago in cities and towns in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and across America, until that day in 1968 when he was fatally shot in Tennessee.

King said, "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve." In that spirit, volunteers were expected to fan out throughout the region, with Philadelphia serving as a hub. In the city, more than 100,000 volunteers were expected to participate in 1,500 community service projects in the largest such event in the country - again guided by the Global Citizen organization's Todd Bernstein.

The activities for volunteers will include workshops, training, and a health fair. Free computers will be given to low-income residents as part of an effort to help bridge the city's digital divide.

As the volunteers try to improve the circumstances of others, here's hoping they are strengthened by thoughts of King and how hard he prayed for a better America. The dream lives.

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