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Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just a federal holiday, it's also a national day of service.
Martin Luther King Jr. will be honored today with not one, but two holidays: the federal MLK Day, and the lesser-known Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
According to its organizers, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday of its kind. Described as "a day on, not a day off," the event encourages people to take voluntary action that will help others in some way, in the spirit of Dr. King's vision of a mutually supportive "beloved community."
The Day of Service takes place on the third Monday of each January, so this year it coincides with the larger MLK Day celebrations. It was created in 1994 as part of the King Holiday and Service Act.
The Christian Science Monitor gives examples of how the Day of Service has been marked in the past:
Last year in Philadelphia, for instance, computer professionals got together to donate used PCs to city families who lacked Internet access. In Washington, President Obama and his kids helped paint a middle school. In Des Moines, Iowa, members of Habitat for Humanity built 25 sheds for needy homeowners.
This year, the Obamas took part in a project at the Browne Education Campus in the District of Columbia, where they and other volunteers helped to build bookshelves in the school's library. The president said there was no better way to celebrate King than to spend the day helping others, the Associated Press reported.
And now King enthusiasts and supporters can now access hundreds of thousands of his personal writings at the stroke of a keyboard. The King Center has published 200,000 documents belonging to Martin Luther King Jr. online ranging from personal notes to conversations to John F. Kennedy.
The documents, which had been kept at the King Center in Atlanta, include scraps of paper with sermons and letters written from prison, as well as hate mail addressed to King, calling African-Americans "savages".
Martin Luther King III, president of the King Center, said the archive "is helping to preserve and extend my father's important message to sustain the momentum of non-violent social change around the world".
According to the MLK Day of Service Facebook page, other events planned for today include a food-donation drive in Memphis, Tennessee, a park clean-up in Austin, Texas, and urban gardening in Jackson, Mississippi.
One volunteer, Kelley Cockrum Lucero, wrote:
"I work at a community action agency in Columbia, MO. For the MLK Day of Service our employees recruited services from a variety of businesses like auto repair, home repair, computer repair, appliance repair, haircuts, lawn care/gardening, tutoring, etc. in the form of gift certificates that can be used by any of our program participants throughout the year. [...] In total, we had 348 hours of service donated, valued at $11,205. Not bad for our first year, I think Dr. King would have been pleased."
Here's a video of Obama and his family speaking on the value of celebrating MLK through service: