January 4, 2012; Source: WTVA | On January 16, the White House will have its annual MLK Day of Service, part of the President’s United We Serve campaign, to honor the slain civil rights leader. The promotional materials cite King’s well-known statement, “Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'".

Last year and this year, the Corporation for National and Community Service, which coordinated the MLK Day events, named “MLK Day Ambassadors of Service”. On this year’s list of ambassadors, whose responsibilities include “Advocat[ing] for service as an effective way to tackle serious social problems and advance Dr. King’s work and honor his legacy,” are: Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP; John Bridgeland, President Bush’s USA Freedom Corps; Michael Brown, CEO of City Year; Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League; Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist; Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light Network; and Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.

Some of the ambassadors included quotations from Dr. King in their ambassadorial profiles:

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” (Michael B. Jordan, actor and writer)

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” (Hill Harper, actor, founder of Manifest Your Destiny Foundation)

“Walk in the light of creative altruism.” (Morial)

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” (Newmark)

In Columbus, Ohio, the MLK Day of Service projects touted by WTVA “include home repairs, yard work for the elderly and various service projects at locations in the Friendly City,” but volunteers are needed (115 participated on last year’s MLK Day). Louisville, Kentucky is looking for as many as 1,000 volunteers to take on projects such as the event at the Beechmont Community Center, where 50 volunteers from Home Depot will “spruce up” the facility, the first of the MLK projects highlighted by the Courier-Journal’s coverage of the MLK Day lineup. Friends of West Hollywood Elementary School and the Sunset Strip Businesses Association are joining together to recruit volunteers for a “beautification and maintenance project” at the school on January 16.

They are all clearly nice, useful, and welcome projects, like the vast bulk of MLK Day projects undertaken under the auspices of the Corporation for National and Community Service, whose AmeriCorps rules prevent political advocacy. Given that the social and economic conditions of this country today are categorically worse than they were when Dr. King led the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, some of us might be looking for expressions of Dr. King’s concepts of “creative protest” and “creative dissent” in addition to altruistic volunteer service projects.—Rick Cohen