I really loved when they changed the essence of Martin Luther King Day to a time of service. As a teacher, I much preferred having the students do something meaningful, rather than sit around watching TV, or congregating at the mall. Our school began by having the day off, and then we changed it to having classes, but basing the day on prayer and service.
When we switched (I think it was in the mid-to-late nineties,) there were some complaints (isn’t there always when it involves change?) Some of the African-American families became angry that we weren’t giving the day a special meaning. We tried to explain that a day of service was more in keeping with Dr. King’s philosophies than just a day off. Several families just kept their children home, though.
We always began the day with a Mass and prayer service, and then we’d work on that year’s plan. It may have been a community project where students from other schools combined their efforts. It could have been a collection/delivery of food for local pantries. Or it may have involved preparing/serving food at shelters or food kitchens.
The teachers would have given age-appropriate lessons on Dr. King’s legacy ahead of time, and they were urged to promote the day through bulletin boards or projects. Even the youngest students were involved, and teachable moments cropped up everywhere. Hopefully, the lessons learned remained with the kids for a long time.
I’ve noticed, though, that many schools have resumed the day-off policy, including the one where I taught. It’s sad, but maybe the baton has been passed to the parents, and the family could be involved with something meaningful. More than likely, however, the day will be just another day off. I’m glad I was around for those service days.
Now, I’m pretty much incapable of doing something physical on this special day. I can, however, pray for those who are involved in projects, and I can definitely pray that Dr. King’s dream will one day be a reality!