The Martin Luther King Day of Service has come and gone. You’ve collected coats, painted school buildings, served meals at soup kitchens, and braved the cold to clean up local parks and playgrounds. Hopefully, as part of your service efforts with your children, you have reflected on the work and life of Dr. King.
As Philadelphians, we should be proud that the 17th Annual Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service is the one of the largest in the nation. This holiday service event offers an opportunity to spend time with our children, meet a neighbor, or contribute in some small way to our city.
Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for this “I Have a Dream” speech and his tireless efforts in advancing Civil Rights, this day honors his commitment to serve others. In a less famous quotation, King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?”
While participating in service on MLK Day or any other day, we as parents are called to emphasize the importance of serving others. Too often, we talk about serving the “needy” or the “poor”. Perhaps our message could instead focus on reaching out to our neighbors, contributing to our communities, and serving someone other than ourselves, regardless of their social or economic condition.
Any community service offers a teaching moment for parents to empower children so they believe they can affect change, that small efforts can solve big problems, and that no one is too young to make a difference in the lives of others.
King’s life story provides a great background for these lessons. He showed us that anyone among us can make a difference. Boycotts and sit-ins did not require great skill, education or financial resources. They simply required a strong commitment to attempt to solve problems in the world. Our children must know that they too can make this type of impact, but it requires much more than one day of service a year.
The challenge before us, and what I believe King would advise us today, is to be relentless in serving others so we can create a community where all needs are met. We must incorporate service as a regular part of our family’s schedules.
Our region offers countless opportunities to serve our communities. Consider establishing a monthly service event with your family. Choose one which reflects your family’s interests and passions. You could donate clothing and schools supplies for Cradles to Crayons, collect books for Philadelphia Reads, participate in Friends of Wissahickon park clean-ups (www.fow.org), or donate food and serve meals at St. Vincent’s Dining Room (facetofacegermantown.org).
The work you choose is much less important than the lessons you impart. By incorporating service activities all year long, you teach your children that everyone has something to contribute to the greater community. This is truly the best way to learn from the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
NW Philly Parents is a partnership between NewsWorks.org and GermantownAvenueParents.com, a community blog covering events and issues of interest to parents and children in Northwest Philadelphia.