The gymnasium at Ballou High School, a public school in Washington, DC’s Anacostia neighborhood, was buzzing with excitement this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Celebrities, politicians, service organizations, and individuals gathered to commemorate Martin Luther King’s service to America and to celebrate the official designation of Martin Luther King Day as a National Day of Service. Such honored guests as Martin Luther King III, First Lady of California Maria Shriver, Tobey Maguire, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, as well as revered members of congress and pioneers of service were present at the gymnasium to share their experiences, perspectives, and pledges for the future with regard to service.
I was lucky enough to have a spot in the very center of the gymnasium, directly in front of the podium in the third row of tables. It was close enough that I was able to see the passion and excitement on the speakers’ faces as they all drove home, each in his or her own unique way, that now is the time to serve. In times of economic crisis, explained Laysha Ward, President of Target Community Relations and Target Foundation, “We must resist the urge to look out only for ourselves; more than ever, it’s time to serve.” Every speaker agreed that in the New Era of Service, service was to be no longer an optional activity for those with the time and the caring to take part in, but an integral tool for rebuilding the economy and establishing a committed and united citizenry. Zarinah Hameen, an AmeriCorps Alumna, explained that we must create “a culture of service,” and a society in which “service is not recommended, it’s required.” The remarks reflected Obama’s rallying call in his inauguration speech saying that, “starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” emphasizing that the job did not belong only to politicians or economists, but to every individual.
Even America’s pop culture had caught the service bug, as evidenced by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s creation of a video in which dozens of celebrities pledged to do their part to serve their country and their community. Tobey Maguire was moved to tears by the power of the messages conveyed and the emotion of the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, and was consoled with a hug from Congressman John Lewis. The whole event showcased the movement sweeping the nation, in which people were taking charge of their future by doing their part to make their communities and the world a better place; from Congressmen, to TV personalities, to Spiderman, and every single person who sat riveted, enthused, and empowered by the event.
The speakers had made their message clear: we, as Americans, share a common future. Congressman John Lewis, Tobey Maguire, and Congresswoman Matsui conveyed that Americans, from that moment on, are part of a team working to fulfill the call of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. alike. And how did they know that everyday Americans are ready to take on this enormous challenge? Because they know - and they made it known that morning - that as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, and his son reminded us, “anyone can be great, because anyone can serve.”