Yesterday, with Washington and the country eagerly awaiting the Inauguration, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and their families spent the day honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. by serving others. After spending the morning with wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Medical Center, President Obama traveled to the Sasha Bruce Youthwork shelter for homeless teens in Northeast Washington where he helped renovate "safe space" housing.
After leaving the shelter, the President and Mrs. Obama attended a reception with volunteers at Coolidge Senior High School, where President Obama spoke about the challenges ahead and how every one person can contribute to fighting them.
"Dr. King taught us that we could no longer view our own day-to-day cares and responsibilities as somehow separate from what was happening in the wider world that we read about in the newspaper and saw on TV," the President said at the reception. "Because ultimately, for each of us, our own story and the American story are not separate, they are shared. And they are both strengthened and enriched each time we stand up and answer the call to help meet the challenges of our new century."
Earlier in the day, Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha Obama, and Dr. Jill Biden and Ashley Biden participated in a service project for American soldiers stationed overseas. All told, the volunteers at RFK Memorial Stadium, where the First and Second Families were working, created more than 85,000 care packages. Vice President Biden worked with Habitat for Humanity -- with about 50 AmeriCorps volunteers, firefighters, police officers, and others -- creating homes for families in need in Northeast Washington, D.C.
In all, more than 11,000 service events were held across the nation yesterday. Traditionally, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has often been referred to as a National Day of Service, but the President emphasized that the commitment must extend beyond a single day. "Government will do its part to open up more opportunities for citizens to participate," he said. "And in return, I ask you to play your part – to not just pitch in today, but to make an ongoing commitment that lasts far beyond one day, or even one presidency."
Read President Obama's full remarks below:
Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama
Day of Service Luncheon at Coolidge High School
January 19, 2009
I want to start by thanking all of you for coming together from across this community – people who are young and old, of every race and background and faith – and taking part in the great American tradition of giving of yourselves to lift up your community.
We meet at a moment when this work could not be more urgent. Today, we face challenges like never before in our lifetime. A lot of folks here in DC and across America are hurting and filled with uncertainty about what the future holds. And as I prepare to take that oath tomorrow, I know my Administration has our work cut out for us.
But I also know this: that however well government does its job; however hard we work to make good plans and policies and restore a sense of responsibility to Washington, our problems cannot be solved by government alone – or even mostly by government. It’s going to take all of us, putting our shoulder to the wheel, doing our part to remake this nation.
That’s why we’ve called on the American people to come together and devote their time and effort to work in their communities today. And that’s why we chose this particular day, when we honor a man who lived his life as a servant to his fellow citizens – and whose greatness can be measured not just in his own extraordinary contributions, but in how he inspired others to contribute.
Dr. King taught us that we could no longer view our own day-to-day cares and responsibilities as somehow separate from what was happening in the wider world that we read about in the newspaper and saw on TV. Because ultimately, for each of us, our own story and the American story are not separate, they are shared. And they are both strengthened and enriched each time we stand up and answer the call to help meet the challenges of our new century.
So today, I am asking you to roll up your sleeves and join in the work of remaking this nation. I pledge to you that government will do its part to open up more opportunities for citizens to participate. And in return, I ask you to play your part – to not just pitch in today, but to make an ongoing commitment that lasts far beyond one day, or even one presidency.
And to those who are skeptical about whether this will happen – to anyone who thinks that the American people are selfish or apathetic – I invite them to come here to Coolidge High School and to the more than 11,000 other places across this country where people have spent today fixing up schools and renovating homes and organizing food drives and blood drives and so much more. I see what the American people are doing today and every day. So don’t tell me that we can’t usher in a new spirit of service in this country.
I know we can do this. America is a great nation precisely because Americans have been willing to stand up when it was hard; to give when they had little left to give; to rise above moments of great challenge and terrible trial.
And I know that I am here today – as are so many of you – because somebody, at some point, decided that loving their community and their country meant doing something to change it.
That’s what we are called to do once again, in this moment – our moment – in history. So today, in the words of Dr. King, "Let us rise up…with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be."
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.