Millions of Americans marked Monday, the 80th birthday of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  VOA's Ravi Khanna reports it took on special significance coming one day before the swearing-in of Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. The president-elect rolled up his sleeves and performed community service, urging Americans to follow suit.  

Barack Obama, one day away from becoming the nation's first African American president, marked the day by doing community service and urging Americans to do the same. He visited a homeless shelter for teens, took off his jacket and helped paint the walls.

"Given the crisis that we are in and the hardships that so many people are going through, we can't allow any idle hands,? said Mr. Obama. ?Everybody has to get involved, everybody has to pitch in and I think the American people are ready to do that"

He said if Americans work together, they can achieve great things. "This country is great because of its people. And when all of our people are engaged and involved in making their community better, then you know, we can accomplish anything."

The first lady-to-be, Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden, wife of vice-president-elect Joe Biden, also did service, handing out food bags headed for U.S. troops.

It was all to mark the 80th birthday of the slain civil rights leader.  Forty five years ago, Martin Luther King stood on the National Mall and invoked his dream for America.  He said, "Little black boys and little black girls will be able to hold hands with little white boys and white girls and sisters and brothers.  I have a dream today."

At a huge concert on the National Mall Sunday, Mr. Obama recalled King's service to the nation. The president-elect spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King gave his famous speech.  "Directly in front of us there is a pool that still reflects the dream of a King, the glory of a people who marched and bled so their children might be judged by their character's concept."

On Monday, a few miles away, outside a school, people dropped off food for the needy, responding to Mr. Obama.

Mary Katherine, a volunteer organizer there told us, "When he identified this as a national day of service and said he is going to be participating and his entire family is going to be participating, I thought it was a good example for everybody in the community to bring back that day of service."

At thousands of events across the country, Americans heeded Mr. Obama's call to service, celebrating King's memory.

As many others streamed into Washington DC in excited expectation of Tuesday's inauguration of the new president.