Thousands turned up Monday morning at a Philadelphia place well known to Dr. Martin Luther King to launch the annual Day of Service in his honor.
In 1965, Dr. King gave a speech outside Girard College which helped lead to desegregation of the North Philadelphia boarding school for underprivileged youth.
That is one of the reasons it’s the epicenter of the 17th Annual Day of Service being conducted in his name.
Vice President Joe Biden helped pack boxes at the event, encouraging all who came out.
“As my grandpop would say, keep the faith and keep doing what you are doing,” Biden, the first sitting vice president to visit Girard, told the group.
Regionwide, more than 85,000 people are taking part in King Day of Service activities, making Philadelphia’s the largest such effort across the nation. Not all of them showed up at Girard, but a whole bunch did, getting T-shirts and listening to rousing words of encouragement.
Biden urged people to recognize how much progress has been made since King’s time, while admitting how much work remains to fully realize the slain civil rights leaders dream of a society where everyone is judged on the content of his character, not the color of his skin.
“Sometimes it’s worth looking back and realizing how much progress we made to know how much more is within out power to make,” Biden said. “Not only is there an African-American female president of this institution but there are thousands of you on this campus talking about and acting and doing something about the injustice that continues to exist in this country and in this world.”
The work of generations
Sarah Baxter, 16, wasn’t alive when the tradition of the King Day of Service began, but says she is a second-generation participant in the event.
“My father did it in respect to Dr. King, so I do it in respect to him also,” she said.
Organizer Todd Bernstein says volunteers are tackling more than a thousand projects around the region in honor of King Day, everything from replenishing food pantries with collected food to sorting clothes that will be given to people who need a decent outfit to interview for jobs.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was at Girard. Ramsey says Dr. King was a trailblazer, and he would never have been a police chief or commissioner without him.
“There was a time early in my career when I thought I would be lucky if I became a sergeant, let alone a police chief,” he noted, then hit a somber note about the “dream deferred,”, “When you take a look at the issues that still confront us, especially as it refers to education, we have a long way to go particularly in the African-American community. When you look at violence, black on black crime, that was certainly not part of his dream.”
But Ramsey believes more progress is possible: “It’s not going to be done overnight but parents and students have to be responsible for their own behavior. I think we really have to take a look at our educational system I think we have to do all we can to support it.”