(Special to The Root) — President Barack Obama is marking this Saturday with a National Day of Service in honor of my father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 84 years old today. It means a lot to my family that the weekend honoring my father is dedicated to serving others. I know if he were with us today, it would mean a lot to him, too.
This year the Day of Service takes on special meaning as we mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
When my daddy gave his "I Have a Dream" speech back in 1963, we could only imagine a country in which Americans of all backgrounds — black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Jew and Christian, Hindu and Muslim — could come together across the country to give back to their communities and one another; but this Saturday, that's exactly what will happen.
It's a reminder that my father's dream wasn't just about the opportunity to have more; it was also about the opportunity to do more. True freedom includes the freedom to serve our communities alongside our brothers and sisters no matter their race, religion or ethnicity.
So this weekend, when I volunteer in Atlanta to help raise awareness about living a healthier lifestyle, folks in Colorado rebuild homes destroyed by wildfires and people in Detroit board up vacant homes to make their streets safer, we're doing more than giving back to our communities. We're also living and celebrating that freedom my daddy spoke of.
We're also recognizing that with our rights come responsibilities. My father devoted his life to making sure that America lived up to its ideal as a land of opportunity, and he knew that every opportunity comes with obligations. Service isn't something we should do just for a day; it's something everyone should do for a lifetime.
President Obama understands this. He started his career helping unemployed workers and families in the shadows of shuttered steel mills on the South Side of Chicago, and ever since, he's devoted his life to serving others. He's asking Americans to go online to 2013pic.org/service and pledge to serve their communities throughout the year. Taking that pledge isn't just about what you put in — it's about what you get back.
When President Obama takes the oath of office next week, his hand will rest on the Bible that my father used for inspiration and to prepare for his time as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. During his pastorate, he talked about the importance and responsibility of serving humanity. It's one of the ways that we grow as people. It helps us reach spiritual heights that we could never know if we focused only on ourselves.
That's why there's no better way to honor my father's life than with a Day of Service at the beginning of the year and at the start of our president's next term. It sets the tone for the months and years to come, helping us get into the mindset of serving others. It reminds us to look beyond ourselves, to open up our lives and hearts and to take personal responsibility for the welfare of our communities. That's so important to who we are as a nation, especially today.
The beautiful thing about service is that everyone can do it. We can't all stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or the steps of the Capitol and inspire a nation to do what's right. But each of us, in our own way, can follow in our leaders' footsteps and make a difference for someone today.
Bernice A. King, who is CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, is a daughter of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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