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Bush Highlights Community Service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Americans are marking a national holiday, Monday, commemorating the life and legacy of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports this year, the focus is on community service.

The Martin Luther King holiday is traditionally a time for speeches and church services. But this year, organizers are urging Americans to go beyond words - to use their day off from work or school to help others.

At one high school in Washington, D.C, people from the surrounding neighborhoods gathered to paint the walls with murals, and to send postcards to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

About 350 volunteers showed up at the school, including President Bush.

"One of the things that Mrs. King wanted was for MLK Day to be a day of service. It is not a day off, but a day on," the president said. "And so I am here at Cardozo High School to thank the hundreds of people who have showed up to serve the country."

The visit was low key - or as low key as any presidential visit can be. It was not announced in advance, and Mr. Bush made clear he wanted the focus to be on those who were using the holiday to help others.

"I encourage people all around the country to seize any opportunity they can to help somebody in need," he said. "And by helping somebody in need, you are honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King."

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader of the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's in the United States. With his eloquence, and his belief in non-violent protest, he became a champion of the fight against racial segregation and discrimination.

Dr. King was assassinated in April, 1968. His widow, Coretta Scott King, sought to carry on his work and preserve his legacy through the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mrs. King died last year, and on this Martin Luther King Day, her eldest daughter spoke for the family. At a ceremony at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church - where Dr. King once preached - Yolanda King spoke of the history of the civil rights movement and said America still has a way to go before it fully realizes her father's dream of peace and total racial equality.