The third Monday in January is the federal holiday honoring The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  President Ronald Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, creating a federal holiday to honor King on November 2, 1983.  The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.  As it turned out, getting official status for the holiday was only the first step.

In 1994, President Clinton signed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act.  The law expanded the mission of the holiday as a day of community service, interracial cooperation, and justice.  For years now, communities have encouraged service projects such as renovating schools, cleaning up neighborhoods, tutoring children, donating blood, organizing food drives, or reaching out in some other way to those in need; in other words, making it a day on and not a day off.  To me, that is a powerful declaration: it’s a holiday but it’s not a day off!

In our community, we observed the day with appropriate church services, programs, ceremonies, and other community activities, including several wonderful UNC events in honor of Dr. King’s life and achievements.  On Sunday, January 15th, the MLK University/Community Planning Corporation hosts the 27th Annual Banquet at the Friday Center at 6:00 p.m.  During the banquet, there will be an address from an amazing servant leader, Ambassador James A. Joseph.  He is Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Studies and Executive Director of the United States – Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke University.  Nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the United States Senate in December 1995, he was the first and only American Ambassador to present his credentials to President Nelson Mandela.  You can read more about Amb. Joseph at

The banquet also provides the opportunity to honor worthy community organizations and individuals for their special contributions.   The Corporation also raises money for scholarships for new college students and those already enrolled, and they are acknowledged at the banquet.  Usually some scholarship recipients return each year and share how the scholarships have impacted their lives. It’s not too late to get a ticket or to contribute to the scholarship fund.  For information, go to

There are other activities devoted to service and learning during the week at UNC.  Tuesday, January 17th, Civil rights activist and statesman Andrew Young will speak at Memorial Hall.  Young, an aide to King, a congressman and a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will speak at 7:30 p.m.  Jack Boger, dean and Wade Edwards Distinguished Professor in the School of Law, and UNC senior Amber Koonce will engage Young in conversation.  Tickets are free and can be picked up at the Memorial Hall ticket office beginning January 12th.  This year’s celebration has the theme, “The Time is Now: Our Legacy, Our Future.”  See the rest of the UNC activities at

Dr. King once said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”  Have you come up with your plan to serve in some way on January 16th or doing the week?  Schools, churches businesses, neighborhoods, and organizations of all types have plans to do something special on “the day on.”  I think it’s great that in our community we will come together on the holiday and during the week, demonstrating how we serve in so many significant and creative ways.  I hope to see you out and about as we all serve to make this an even better community.