Thousands gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Saturday to participate in volunteer activities related to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the holiday President Barack H. Obama declared a National Day of Service.
Young and old of every color filed into the tent command center for three separate sessions that included appearances from the likes of honorary National Day of Service Chair Chelsea Clinton; gospel singer and radio host Yolanda Adams; actor Angela Bassett; and activist Martin Luther King III.
“Who would have thought that 45 years after my father’s death, we would be celebrating the second inauguration of a Black president?” King III said to those gathered to give back. “There is no better way to honor my father’s legacy. I know that he would be deeply grateful.”
Community resilience, economic development, education, environment, health, faith, veterans and military families were the seven emphases of the day. Volunteers were able to write letters of support to veterans, decorate nameplates for children receiving their first book, give blood and learn proper CPR techniques in case of emergency situations.
Television personality Star Jones was present to speak about the importance of heart health and having a regular fitness routine. “The National Day of Service is also about being of service to yourself,” Jones told The Afro, a Baltimore newspaper. “If you are not a healthy, contributing member of society then our society loses out on the benefit of having you there.”
Jones, who now speaks for the American Heart Association, knows first hand the dangers heart abnormalities can cause. The signs of her heart condition included shortness of breath, intense heart palpitations and nausea. In 2010, doctors had to fix a faulty aortic valve in Jones’ heart that for 22 minutes left her on a table, chest open, with no heartbeat.
“I was my own advocate, and it allowed me to take preventative measures,” she said. Jones added that she now does spinning cycles three times a week, gets 30 minutes of walking in every day and, occasionally, even a little tennis.
The health section of the fair, like the other six, drew men and women eager to learn about opportunities and information they could take back to their own communities.
Linda Nixon Haughter, 64, from New Orleans has been volunteering for a very long time. “It’s almost like second nature,” she said. Since moving to Arlington, Va. in 1979, she has engrossed herself in service surrounding health and housing in urban communities. At the National Day of Service, she was interested in finding new organizations to support such as the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Life Pieces to Masterpieces. “They do great work in the area, and their director is receiving an award tomorrow,” she said.
Layla Nile Frone, 8, said she came with her father, Jason Frone, 40, because she was very excited about the National Day of Service and inauguration day.
“I like to help people,” she said, shortly before the first session kicked into gear at 10 a.m. “It makes me feel good and I’m excited because I’ll get to see Barack Obama.”
Frone said he brought his daughter to the National Day of Service headquarters to learn about other service organizations and to support We Feed Our People, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that, in 1988, began commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday by feeding the homeless.
“It’s important because she’s at an age where she can understand the value of helping others,” Frone told The Afro. “Laying a foundation of service will not only enlighten her about the reward of helping others but the need to help others. At a young age, I think it’ll help with her maturity and help her understand that there is a cycle to receiving and giving.
“It’s something that my mother instilled in me so I see the value in giving that to my daughter.”
Detroit Police Reserve Officer Fannie Thigpen, 72, said participation in the National Day means a lot to her. “To honor Martin Luther King on the National Day of Service, I decided to sign up.” Unfortunately, Thigpen wasn’t able to join a specific project, but she was still able to spend a couple of hours learning about different initiatives through the booths and exhibits set up on the National Mall.
“It’s important to me to be able to give back to my community, to my state and to my country,” she said.