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Americans Celebrate Martin Luther King Day


On Monday, Americans celebrated the life of one of the nation's most influential civil rights activists, Martin Luther King, Junior. King fought for change in the 1950s and 60s - a time when much of the American South was still segregated and millions of African Americans faced violence and discrimination. As VOA's Alex Villarreal reports, volunteers carry on his legacy.

August 28, 1963. American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., issues his now famous call-to-action.

Speech excerpt: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

Now, more than 40 years later, Americans unite on the U.S. holiday honoring his birth to answer that call.

We Feed Our People is a coalition of individuals and organizations in the nation's capital devoted to continuing King's work.

Each Martin Luther King Day, hundreds of volunteers flock to the MLK Library in downtown Washington to provide food, warm clothes and health screenings for the city's homeless. Monday marked the event's 21st year.

Organizer Leon Fortson says We Feed Our People responds to an important need. "We all know that there are people in this community who don't have the resources that we have. So this is a chance to get back at that demographic and make sure they know at least that somebody cares about them."

Miss Black DC, Amanda Lewis, has helped We Feed Our People for the past three years. She says it is inspiring to watch the community honor King's legacy by taking action. "All these people out here in the freezing cold, just to see all these people out here willing to give up their time to be here to help others, I think that is the most important message that Dr. King wanted us to have," Lewis said.

Earlier Monday, President Bush visited the MLK Library, where he expressed support for the volunteers. He also encouraged people not to limit their action to just one day. He said, "By loving a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself, by reaching out to someone who hurts, by just simply living a life of kindness and compassion, you can make America a better place and fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King."

In 1968, King was shot and killed on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.

But his demands for equality made their mark. And in volunteers across the country, his dream lives on.