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This MLK Day, We Can All Achieve ‘Greatness’

2019 January 21
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

By Barbara L. Stewart
CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)

[Today we] observe the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service — one of two national days of service we are proud to lead at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). As Americans celebrate the life of this Civil Rights leader, we are reminded of the great legacy he left behind and why it’s important to honor Dr. King’s life in service.

Each year during the Martin Luther King Day of Service, CNCS is guided by the wishes of Dr. King’s heirs to make his birthday more than just a celebration of his life; it is also a day to encourage volunteering to improve our nation.

Dr. King’s role as a pivotal leader in securing equality for all of America’s residents is both instructive and inspirational, drawing from lessons learned in the pulpit and the classroom. In his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” Dr. King outlined a “new definition of greatness” based on the responsibility we all have to be active citizens and the roles we can play to make our communities better. This section of the sermon guides our service on this holiday.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

As Dr. King noted, “everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” No special tools or education are required to achieve this goal. The only requirements are “a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” These words provide a simple prescription that can help us start the New Year off right. Anyone can reap the emotional and physical benefits of service regardless of their age, experience, education, or ZIP code, and so can the community in which they live and volunteer.

From AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs to organizations like Samaritan’s Feet, the Arc, and Youth Service America, our partners across the country are engaging volunteers to honor Dr. King. We encourage Americans to find an organization they support and make a commitment to volunteer not only during the MLK Day holiday on Monday, Jan. 21, but also throughout 2019. Through service, we can bring our communities closer together and experience the “greatness” that lies within each of us.

Barbara L. Stewart is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that leads AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the nation’s volunteer efforts. You can learn more about how to volunteer in your community at

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