A Day to Serve

Managing editor Kathy Knotts (far left) with other AmeriCorps members at a Day of Service project in southwest Virginia in 2015.

“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. … You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

How did you spend your holiday Monday? Did you lounge at home, watching football and being thankful you didn’t have to go to work or schlep the kids to school?

Honestly, that’s exactly how I spent a portion of my Monday. But it’s not how I’ve always spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Years ago, I did what many other AmeriCorps service members do on that day—I spent it in service to others.

         I learned about the MLK Day of Service while I was an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) in southwest Virginia. As a VISTA for the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, I was tasked with spending MLK Day in a service project, part of a national observance for all Corps members. Before my year of service, I had no idea MLK Day had been designated as a day “on” not a day off, even though the designation began in 1994.

         So, I spent MLK Day working on a mountain stream in rural Appalachia, pulling tires out of the water, bagging soda bottles and beer cans, and chatting with a few other Corps members who had turned out to help. While the particular day felt like many other that year—I pulled a lot of tires out of rivers—the experience has stuck with me.

         As a child, Dr. King was only mentioned once or twice a year in my school. I was 11 years old when his birthday became a federal holiday. My birthday falls about a week after the holiday, and I think that’s why I never regarded MLK Day as personally significant until I became an adult. It was just a day off.

         As an adult, I am inspired by King’s mission, his global vision of a beloved community that rises above violence and inequality. It’s a message we desperately need in 2022—that we can, and will, do better, be better.

         I’m grateful to AmeriCorps for making it mean even more to me and using the day to inspire volunteers across the country to give back in actual time spent helping and serving our neighbors. We sent our plucky band of writers out into Chesapeake Country to find examples of the spirit of service in work in our communities. Despite a global pandemic, the spirit of unity and a desire to find commonalities still shine through dark times as you’ll read in our feature story as well in some of the news stories we bring you this week.

         As always, let me know what you think, email [email protected] with your comments and suggestions.