Focus on MLK’s message

Farm Forum

The nation is set to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

Although this is a national holiday, it might, at first blush, seem far removed from the lives of many South Dakotans. After all, South Dakota, as reported by the U.S. Census, is made up of only 1.4 percent “Black persons” compared to the national average of 13.1 percent. But this is misleading because King’s message was not just about skin color. Rather, it is about service and equality — respect, concern and, yes, even love — for our neighbors.

In celebrating this holiday for 2013, particularly in the face of a new year, let’s focus on the message that King conveyed to all when shared his hopes for our nation’s future: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”

One thing all of us can do on Jan. 21 — in whatever way — is to participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. “The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community” according to

Volunteer opportunities for your community might include working with your local church, school, animal shelter, senior citizen center, military family group, veterans group, food bank, or any other nonprofit organization that helps those in need. Everyone can afford the gift of time and a helping hand. If you are able to contribute financially, great, but many groups will just be happy to put you to work. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’ ”

A life of service, in whatever way that suits you best, is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and to your community.

Our family is lucky to belong to a very active church in this community. In fact, one of the biggest reasons we were compelled to join Bethlehem Lutheran Church was its serving ministry. From help to single parents, military families with deployed service members, the sick or terminally ill, to others facing similar difficult circumstances, the church is a place of both welcoming and service.

Whether you work through your church, or simply offer to help a neighbor, that service can manifest itself in serving a weekly meal, making a home visit, shoveling a sidewalk, sewing a quilt, making a phone call, or just lending a listening ear.

The only meaningful things we have to show for our time on this earth are our relationships. Whatever your circumstances, and in whatever way you choose to honor the MLK holiday, try becoming his dream by being of service to others. After all, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”

Alan L. Neville is an associate professor of education at Northern State University. The views are his and do not represent Northern State University.