President Obama, A Drum Major for Service
First Family serves alongside ServiceNation volunteers on MLK Day
As part of his now famous Drum Major Instinct speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us all that, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”
On January 16, 2012, ServiceNation, along with many close partners, helped put together a service project that proves this idea. Along with the Corporation for National and Community Service, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Greater DC Cares, and groups of community volunteers, ServiceNation representatives worked to spruce up the Brown Education Center in Northeast Washington DC.
A group of more than 125 volunteers—greatly varied in age, experience, and background— gathered to prove that everybody can be great on a day that honors Dr. King. And on this day, the volunteers were also distinctly honored by the presence of a true “drum major for service," President Barack Obama.
Along with First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughter Malia, the President joined ServiceNation and all of our partners in a day of celebration and service. President Obama took time to address the volunteers and speak about Dr. King and the significance of this service holiday. After greeting every participant individually, he and his family headed to the school library to assist with a refurbishment effort. The President helped ServiceNation volunteers who were re-painting the walls in the computer lab, and then he spent quite a bit of time and energy painting a Dr. King quote onto the library wall.
“The time is always right to do what is right,” was the quote that the President chose to paint, while Mrs. Obama attached “I have a dream,” to an adjacent wall. Not only are these quotes special because their have been inscribed by the First Family, but also because for the kids at this school—and for all who were involved with the service project—they represent Dr. King’s legacy and the reason that we celebrate his birthday with service.
We have many holiday traditions in the United States. Eating certain foods, visiting relatives, watching fireworks, or wearing specific clothes. But MLK Day of Service—a tradition that is now 19 years old—is truly one of the most special and appropriately profound actions that we perform on any American holiday. In the service community, it’s known as “a day on, not a day off”.
For the third year in a row, the First Family has had a “day on” for MLK Day. And this year ServiceNation was privileged to be invited to join the project. ServiceNation also took on a special role for this project—another tradition that is developing around service project— getting veterans and military families involved. What better place to unite the civlian and military communities than at a service project, because service is a concept that both groups understand and value. ServiceNation reached out to a number of active military, military families, and veterans—four of which were selected to serve alongside the President and Mrs. Obama.
The First Lady has served with ServiceNation on many occasions, including the launch of our Mission Serve initiative in 2009 and on 9/11 Day of Service in 2010. Most recently, ServiceNation partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program to host a joint service project and veteran hiring fair in Hawai‘i at which the First Lady spoke on Veterans Day weekend. However, this MLK Day event represents the first time that ServiceNation has been joined by President Obama, since he and Senator John McCain both attended the ServiceNation Summit as candidates for President in 2008.
The idea of service—especially in recent years—has been a bi-partisan issue. Both parties agree that the values and results that service can provide to a community are unmatched by government or the private sector in terms of efficiency and value for the expense. That is one reason that mayors all over the country, through the Cities of Service initiative, have been able to use service-based programs to meet the needs of their cities where government intervention is too expensive or unavailable.
Likewise, the Obama Administration also recognizes that service is greatly beneficial to those who have the opportunity to take part in it. At the MLK project, President Obama met with a group of national service members who are part of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). Not unlike a term in the U.S. Military, young people in NCCC dedicate a period of their lives to serve their country—to work in teams, develop leadership, and strengthen communities. Amongst many other missions, NCCC members deploy to assist with disaster relief and to supplement non-profit efforts in local communities.
NCCC is one of many nationally funded programs that offers Americans the chance to serve their country through long-term stipended service. Many—but not all—of these opportunities are funded and organized by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which served as the host for the President and his family at this particular MLK project.
It was an honor and a privilege for ServiceNation to serve alongside grade school students, youth mentors, engaged citizens and parents, national service members, veterans and military families, federal employees, and the First Family. This day proves that, yes, we all can be great, because we all can serve.
And it was an ideal capstone to the two-week social media campaign through which ServiceNation and Opportunity Nation partnered to spread the message behind this year’s theme of MLK Day of Service: Economic Opportunity. Linking together so many diverse partners and ideas under on common goal—service—is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a fulfilling outing for a group of volunteers is marching to the beat of the world’s greatest drum major for service on this morning in January and for the year to come.