In 1994, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service was launched thanks largely to U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford Jr. of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Wofford was an attorney and civil rights activist. He was a Democratic politician who represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate from 1991 to 1995. He also was a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy and an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. during the decade of struggle from Montgomery to Memphis. His “passion for getting people involved helped create John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps, Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps and other service organizations and made him America’s volunteer in chief,” according to his 2019 obituary in The New York Times.
It isn’t surprising that, given his strong interest in volunteerism and knowing what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for, he launched the campaign to make MLK Day into a day of service, what Wofford called “a day on, not a day off.”
Todd Bernstein – Chief of Staff of Wofford’s Philadelphia office when the campaign was launched – supported those efforts. Bernstein is the founder and director of the annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service. Today, Philadelphia continues to host the largest King Day of Service in the country, according to Global Citizens.
I had the pleasure and honor of working with Sen. Wofford for three years. There is so much I can share about my time working with him as his Latino liaison. He brought attention to the need for universal healthcare and fought for a stronger economy, among other things. It was such a great experience to work for someone that understood what the civil rights movement meant to us, someone that I truly respected for all he stood for.
I am excited to say that I participated in the very first day of service in Philadelphia. I remember vividly how cold the day it was, the icy and slippery conditions; yet we were all out and about working on different projects. It didn’t stop us from serving our community just like the pandemic hasn’t stopped the MLK Day of Service.
I am happy to share that this year’s event on Jan. 17 is focusing on COVID support and resources. There will be two locations at Girard College with one site offering vaccines and the other a testing site.
I am glad to see that Wofford’s vision of honoring Dr. King’s legacy lives on.
Video: Sen. Wofford speaking on why a day of service:
Point of interest:
Harris Wofford wrote the book “Of Kennedys and Kings, Making Sense of the Sixties.” “His memoirs capture the personal drama of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King as their characters were tempered and tested… it not only made sense of the sixties but also gives us history from the inside,” according to Bill Moyers.