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Americans Honor Dr. King By Serving Their Communities

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We all know a few famous lines from the "I Have A Dream" speech, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for an end to the injustices of racism. The speech, though, was also a call to action. To the hundreds of thousands of people who had come to Washington for the march, Dr. King essentially said go home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Go back to Mississippi. Go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Georgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities knowing that somehow, this situation can and will be changed.

SHAPIRO: Today, millions of Americans are spending the day that commemorates Dr. King by serving in their communities.

ORLAN JOHNSON: We're still trying to decide if we're going to paint all the walls or we're going to do spot-painting in here.

SHAPIRO: That's Orlan Johnson, one of 75 volunteers who turned out to give a fresh coat of paint to the Nativity Women's Shelter here in Washington today.

O. JOHNSON: I haven't been thinking about free at last while I've been painting or anything like that, or Mahalia Jackson singing. No, I'm not hearing that.

SHAPIRO: Johnson brought his 16-year-old son Jair with him, who was happy to be out of school.

JAIR JOHNSON: It just feels really good. It feels good that I'm out the house. Like, usually on a type of day like this, I'll be in the house sleeping or maybe playing 2K or something along those lines, but it's good I can come out, you know, paint and tape and help people who really need the help.

SHAPIRO: In Steelton, Pa., Mike Walsh helped coordinate volunteers today.

MIKE WALSH: We're at the Steelton-Highspire High School, where there's about 100 volunteers. Some children and their parents are making cards for children who are at the pediatric care unit at Hershey Medical Center, which is nearby.

SHAPIRO: And in Jacksonville, Fla., Sara Ley and her 4 and 6-year-old sons helped clean up a park.

SARA LEY: Both boys were very much into using the rakes that were twice as big as them, and holding trash bags that were much bigger than them to help clean up the trash and to put leaves in. My 6-year-old, Gavin, just seeing it through his eyes is tremendous.

SHAPIRO: Back at the Nativity Women's Shelter in Washington, project manager Rosylyn Roberts says the new paint job makes a difference for the 25 women who call the shelter home.

ROSYLYN ROBERTS: It makes a big difference when you walk in and you can feel proud to be where you are at that moment. It makes a difference when you come in and it's bright.

SHAPIRO: She says she's thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today.

ROBERTS: And all that has taken place, and the fact that all over the country, you see people doing volunteer work, and the fact that that's a result of what he stood for, I think it's absolutely amazing.

SHAPIRO: Stories of service on this, the 30th Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And we're going to end with the voice of Mahalia Jackson singing at the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW I GOT OVER")

MAHALIA JACKSON: (Singing) Tell me how we got over, Lord. We had a mighty time hard time coming on over. You know my soul, look back and wonder - how did I make it over? Well, soon as I can see Jesus, the man that died for me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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