January 15, 2021
Jamie Rappaport Clark

On Monday, our nation will celebrate the legacy of the revered civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Designated as a national day of service, Martin Luther King Day encourages all Americans to volunteer and improve their communities. 

Martin Luther King Jr on the National Mall

In these troubled times, I hope we can all pause to reflect on Dr. King’s commitment to peace and nonviolence, his call to service and justice and his challenge to all of us to do what we can to make the world a more just place. And although Dr. King has been gone for more than 50 years, his words still inspire us today: 

Person holding leaf in front of their face in fall
Juan Rojas/Unsplash

Though Dr. King is known for fighting tirelessly for equality, access and economic freedom for communities of color across the nation, he clearly saw the inextricable link among justice, equity and the environment. Just before he died in 1968, Dr. King went to Tennessee to join Black sanitation workers in protest of polluted and hazardous work conditions. At the time, environmental racism was a growing concern as Black people suffered extensively from toxic air and dirty water in their neighborhoods. Today, the burden of pollution still falls disproportionately on low-income communities and people of color. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

Masked person doing beach cleanup
Ocean Cleanup Group

Martin Luther King Day reminds us all to rededicate ourselves to ensure racial, social, economic and environmental justice through service. Volunteering is a powerful tool that builds strong communities and is needed now more than ever. While COVID-19 has drastically impacted how we engage in our communities, there are still many ways to serve. Find a safely distanced outdoor project in your community or  choose from a variety of virtual opportunities across the country. Whether you plan on mentoring a budding environmental leader or helping clean up a public space, what you do to give back makes a difference.

Dr. King also once said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Those are inspiring words for all of us right now.

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial with Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC
Megan Joyce/Defenders of Wildlife


Jamie Rappaport Clark headshot

Jamie Rappaport Clark

President and CEO
Jamie Rappaport Clark’s lifelong commitment to wildlife and conservation led her to choose a career in wildlife biology. She has been with Defenders of Wildlife since February 2004 and took the reins as president and CEO in 2011.

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