The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

January 20, 2014

‘A day on, not a day off’

Manchin's Message by Sen. Joe Manchin
Guest Column

— In the 30 years since the creation of a national holiday honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the celebration of his inspiring life and lasting spirit has evolved into a day of national service — “a day on, not a day off,” as some like to say.

This is the way the King family envisioned the holiday from the very moment it was first proposed because Dr. King personified the idea that community action could help solve even the most daunting of social problems, be it racial segregation, economic injustice or an unjust war.

As the first celebration of the holiday approached in 1986, his widow, Coretta Scott King, worried publicly that it might become like so many other national holidays — commercialized with retail sales or an opportunity for leisure activities, such as picnics, parties and parades.

But her worries proved unfounded. In 1994, 11 years after creating the King holiday, Congress designated the celebration a national day of service — the only national holiday so designated.

Dr. King believed that public service not only met real and pressing needs in the community but also fulfilled the spiritual needs of individuals — the importance of giving of ourselves.

He also believed that everyday Americans from all walks of life can — if they work together — bring about powerful changes, one step at a time. The civil rights movement of the 1960s bore witness to that fact.

As Dr. King said many times in many places, our fates are inextricably joined “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The scriptures that inspired Dr. King to a life of service are filled with exhortations for all of us to love our neighbors as ourselves — the Golden Rule, as it commonly known.

That is something the people of West Virginia know a lot because the people of our great state are like a big family, committed to taking care of each other.

Of course, the most recent example of West Virginians pulling together as a family is the way the whole state pitched in after the recent chemical spill in the Elk River left more than 300,000 without usable tap water.

Caring for each other is part of our West Virginia proud heritage. We, in West Virginia, practice this simple guiding principle: service to our communities, our state and our country is not just for special days but for every day. It is a part of our faith and part of our American Dream.

I learned the Golden Rule and the lessons of pulling together as a community while growing up in the small coal-mining town of Farmington. I was taught that if you can count your blessings, you can share your blessings.

Dr. King learned the same lessons while growing up in his father’s church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Ga. He was taught that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

This year, as we celebrate Dr. King’s life and spirit, we can answer that question with “a day on, not a day off” — sharing.

(Manchin is West Virginia’s junior senator.)