WASHINGTON — Americans across the country paused Monday to observe the annual federal holiday marking the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. While the holiday usually means the day off from work or school, many honored Dr. King by participating in the National Day of Service.
President Obama led by example Monday, during the national day of service.
"We just want to thank everybody here for the great work they do," he said.
Alongside first lady Michelle Obama and his daughters, the family made burritos with volunteers at a local community kitchen.
Meanwhile, at Fort Dupont Park in Washington, National Park Service head Jonathan Jarvis spoke about the significance of Martin Luther King's call to service.
“The message Dr. King carried was of service to others," he said. "He asked each of us: 'What are you doing for each other, what are you doing for others, what are you doing for your community?' And he lived that life, and he stands as a symbol for all of us.”
Heeding this message, volunteers from AmeriCorps, the Student Conservation Association, local schools and residents got their hands dirty, picking up trash and pulling weeds at the park.
“I love being in nature and I just love these parks, and I just want other people to be able to enjoy them, and the species that live here, to be able to continue to live here," said student Charlotte Leape. "I think it’s really important to pick up trash in the park.”
“I like animals, and I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up," Shannon Mueller said. "I want to help the animals and the wildlife, anywhere, so why not go to a park and pick up trash?”
Sarah Catchot, an SCA leader, agreed.
“I really like to lead people, to give back to their communities, to get outdoors, to be in nature, to do something for the planet," she said. "There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Local resident Paul Mackie said the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service appeals to him personally.
“My grandfather marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., and was a big civil rights leader in the south," he said. "I’ve always identified with MLK’s messages of service."
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service is the country’s largest day of civic engagement.
Advocates call it a “Day On, not a Day Off.”