Some of the most-important work we do in our lives is not paid for in cash.
The labor of bringing up children and caring for elders in our family is not paid for in cash. Helping out a neighbor or a stranger is not paid for in cash. Following public issues and voting is not paid for in cash. Working for a better world is not paid for in cash. But it is what brings meaning to life and righteousness to society.
On Martin Luther King Day, tens of thousands of Philadelphians will seek to follow in the footsteps of a man who volunteered to change the world. In large groups and small, they will labor at work projects around the city to improve conditions in small ways, one step at a time.
This remains the work of citizenship, 365 days a year. A good city needs good government – but it needs more than that: good citizens actively banding together without being ordered to.
We owe a debt of gratitude to all the volunteer groups around the city who labor for others for love. When you tutor or give aftercare to a child in need, you are following in King’s footsteps. When you clean a vacant lot, you are following in his footsteps. When you join a civic association to lobby for safe streets, you are following in his footsteps. When your block club plants trees, you are following in his footsteps.
When your office organizes a beef and beer for a workmate ravaged by illness, you are following in his footsteps. When your labor union donates repairs to an impoverished home, you are following in his footsteps. When your church organizes a youth program for at-risk kids, you are following in his footsteps. When your band performs for a nursing home, you are following in his footsteps.
When you join a political party or advocacy group, you are taking a small but necessary step to make democracy work; and so is your fellow citizen who is working on the opposite side. Take a minute on Monday to thank that person, if you can.
Then get back to work, the work of volunteering. You have the time. You have the skill. You can afford it. Be a King.