by Pete Mazzaccaro

Next Monday, people around the country will mark Martin Luther King Day with thousands – if not millions – of service projects across the country.

What many might not realize is that the tradition of making that holiday one of community service has local origins. It was the product of a discussion between former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and his staffer, Mt Airy resident Todd Bernstein, in which the men discussed how disappointed Dr. King would have been to know the national holiday honoring him had become nothing more than a day off.

Dr. King’s life, if it was about one thing, was about striving to make an unfair world more fair for everyone. In his earliest days of protest, King was on the side of labor unions seeking better wages. For King, there was so much ground to cover to bring the poor and disenfranchised closer to realizing the American Dream.

There still is.

A major focus this year is Philadelphia public schools, where the struggling school district is not offering some 200,000 students an education equal to what many children are receiving in nearby suburban public school districts.

Now the director of Global Citizen, a Philadelphia nonprofit that organizes what year after year has been the biggest single day of civic engagement every Martin Luther King Day, Bernstein told our Associate Editor Sue Ann Rybak that the signature project Monday will be the packing and distribution of much-needed school supplies. More than 100 volunteers, including Mayor Michael Nutter, will participate in that effort.

Bernstein said his organization also will donate 100 computers to public schools, a small number but one that he hopes will make a dent in the digital divide.

For any students to get a fair shot in a competitive higher-education marketplace, technical skills are a must.

But what happens on Tuesday? The city’s public schools will certainly still need help.

Bernstein’s Global Citizen operates what it calls MLK365, a program that goes beyond the single holiday and promotes extending that spirit of community engagement into a year-round effort to make the world a better place. Public schools are a good place to focus those year-round efforts.

If you are interested in being part of one of the many area projects on Monday, visit or call Global Citizen’s hotline: 215-851-1811. You can also register your own project with the organization.

It’s very easy to take a day to make the world or your community a better place.

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