View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 16, 1998


                       SENATOR HARRIS WOFFORD

The Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. TOIV: Good afternoon. Monday, to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, the President, the Vice President, the First Lady and many other members of the administration will have kind of a day on instead of a day off, and perform service to communities around the country, particularly here in the District. The White House staff, as well, will participate.

Here to brief on those activities are Thurgood Marshall, Jr., Assistant to the President for Cabinet Affairs, and Senator Harris Wofford, who is CEO of the Corporation for National Service, which is the lead agency for these activities.

As you may know, back in 1994 Congress passed legislation to make this a day of service, and so here they are.

MR. MARSHALL: Thank you, Barry. Good afternoon. In 1994, the President signed the King Holiday and Service Act to make the holiday a day of service that brings people together, promotes racial cooperation, and allows people to solve problems through citizen action.

On that occasion, the President said, "This law helps us by linking the observance of Dr. King's birthday to a day of national service. Nothing could better serve the legacy of Dr. King. He was apathy's sworn enemy and action's tireless champion." Indeed, Dr. King himself once said, "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve."

As Barry mentioned on Monday, President Clinton, the First Lady and Vice President Gore, along with a dozen or more Cabinet members and members of the President's Advisory Board on Race and numerous other administration staff will join Americans across the country participating in events to commemorate the King holiday and participate in service opportunities around the country.

The President, in particular, will join Senator Wofford and 65 AmeriCorps members, as well as 300 community volunteers, to repair and paint classrooms at Cardozo High School in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington. White House staff will also be participating in that effort.

Mrs. Clinton and Secretary Riley will be at the MCI Center to read to children associated with local literacy programs in the D.C. Reads program, connected with the D.C. public schools.

Vice President Gore will deliver remarks at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta along with the King family, and he will participate in the service even at the King Center in connection with the group, Do Something.

Six Cabinet members will be participating in service-oriented events in Washington. Six others will be participating in events around the country; I believe the list has been provided to you. If you have any particular questions, our office in Cabinet Affairs at Extension 2572 can either provide that information or hook you up directly with the contacts in those agencies.

A number of White House staff, including Frank Raines, Janet Yellin, Gene Sperling and Maria Echaveste will be participating in service-related events here in the District of Columbia. The events include the MCI Center reading program, the Cardozo High School refurbishing, as well as the couple of ** kids, Martha's Table events, helping the homeless in the D.C. area.

As you all know, the Cabinet has been heavily involved in service events throughout the first term and now in the second term. In addition, we have worked with virtually monthly meetings with Cabinet agency representatives to emphasize service events throughout the year.

Secretary Glickman, for example, has embarked on a very ambitious food recovery program, which links his agency with a number of other government agencies. The Attorney General spends time in the D.C. public schools mentoring students. Secretary Slater is working to encourage some 100 million children by the year 2000 to explore careers in technology programs linked to his transportation agenda.

There are a number of other activities that the agencies have been involved in and we're happy to lay those out for you if that's helpful. I just want to offer up any other guidance from our office. Steve Silverman is here as well and can answer questions. He's been involved in this, actually, since the '92 campaign.

Q What time is the Cardozo event?

MR. MARSHALL: Actually, I'm not sure of the actual time. I'm sorry. Eleven o'clock a.m.

Q Will the First Lady be with him at that, or does she have a separate service project?

MR. MARSHALL: She's going to the MCI Center.

Q So the President will actually paint and so forth?

MR. MARSHALL: I'm sorry.

Q Just -- and your family's history on civil rights, yesterday there seemed to be a very light celebration of Dr. King's birth. Are you expecting more of a resurgence of years past when they were looking for a King holiday, for that type of atmosphere Monday, or do you think people have just kind of lost a little bit of the fervor?

MR. MARSHALL: Well, actually I hope so, and I would be happy to run through after the briefing with you the extensive list of activities that our Cabinet folks participated in yesterday to commemorate the King birthday, the actual anniversary of the birthday. I should actually turn this over to Senator Wofford at this point who is the CEO of the Corporation for National Service.


SENATOR WOFFORD: Goody, you can stand by me, but thank you. Good afternoon. The fact that's clear to all of us who knew Martin Luther King and worked with him is that he would not want this holiday to be a day off, a day of recreation and rest, he would want it to be a day of action and service.

We know that in our bones that he would not like the holiday that we fought so hard to get established across the country and nationally to be anything less than what he represented, which was turning the greatest words -- among the greatest words in our history into deeds. And that's what the purpose of making this a day of action and service is.

Can you hear me, or may I just finish a couple of remarks first? Sorry. When John Lewis*, a true hero of the civil rights movement and close colleague of Dr. King teamed up with me and others of us to present this idea to the Congress, we found that almost all of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle viewed it as a self-evident proposition that we should make this a day of service and not just one day, but a day that would be a jump start and a kickoff for sustained service through the year.

That idea has caught fire. One could sense it was going to in the Rose Garden when the President signed it and the King Family was there and great members of the civil rights movement were there to celebrate it, and it has grown every year since. And this is going to be, by far, the largest year of projects. Hundreds of them that we know of through our family of national service. That means there are thousands that we don't know of.

With the President's example and his commitment and the Cabinet's and the events the King Family is organizing in Atlanta, there's going to be a great new shove to this idea. Our family of national service, AmeriCorps members, 40,000 strong now, are in the front lines of this. Our senior service corps of half a million seniors are actively engaged across the country. More than half a million Learn and Serve students have been asked by their teachers and by us to engage in acts on this day. The Do Something organization of Andrew Shue has an inventive program on the Web site in which on-line young people register acts of kindness and justice. And so far the count is that there are some 160,000 acts of kindness and justice in the 10 days before the holiday that have been registered on-line -- 114,000 acts so far in 1,600 cities; 1,600 acts per hour; 12,000 teachers around the country have engaged their students. And that is just one example.

So I think we can say that on behalf of our partners in this, the United Way of America, the Points of Light Foundation, King Center in Atlanta, the King family, and Do Something, that we are on our way to making this holiday what Martin Luther King would have wanted. But we know that 30 years after his death we have a long, long way still to go. And Monday, Americans can do their part.

Coretta King I think put it well. Coretta Scott King said this: The best birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrate the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.

Goody and I and others will be happy to now pursue your questions. Thanks for giving me the extra 10 minutes.

Q What you're saying in essence, and if you could just come out and say it if you could, is the King holiday just basically being observed as a day off pretty much for the last few years?

SENATOR WOFFORD: No, I was organizer of the Martin Luther King Association in Philadelphia, and we've had major celebrations on that day. It's been a day for the majority of American people a day off. The majority, overwhelming number of American students it's just been a day off. That's why I think it is so significant that the Federation of Teachers, the teachers of Philadelphia have joined with the school district of Philadelphia to say we want to ask all of our students to think about what kind of acts ought to be done on this day. Instead of making it just a day off, let's together make it a day of action.

So I don't want to discount the commemorations all over this country, the celebrations of words. But Martin Luther King would say you've got to go beyond the words. Beginning is the word, but the word must be made flesh, must be turned into deeds. With the dialogue which comes first you've got to also take action. So this is fulfilling the promise of the King holiday, not denying the good things that were done before.

Q Mr. Marshall, could you tell us just if you accept as sort of the essence of Dr. King's dream that his children would live in a country where they would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character -- where is the country right now with respect -- is that dream realized? And what is the message behind sending Vice President Gore to Atlanta to commemorate this day?

MR. MARSHALL: Well, it's obviously a dream to which we all continue to aspire. The Vice President's message will be in large measure a tribute to Dr. King, is my understanding, and a look back on his teachings and where we are today. So I think you will hear in his speech an answer to that question and you will hear that from a number of other folks from the administration who will be out speaking on Monday.

SENATOR WOFFORD: Could I add a word in terms of the summit's commitment of Presidents and thousands of people in Philadelphia to fulfill America's promise and concentrate on the five fundamentals that children and youth need to realize the American Dream, which one of Martin Luther King's last words were the terrible urgency of now to see that every one of God's children's children fulfills America's promise.

When Dr. King was killed and Robert Kennedy was killed, those needs of children and youth were there before us in this country. And we haven't done enough in those 30 years. And we've been in these last years on a number of fronts related to children and youth, moving up to action. And the summit in Philadelphia summoned us to see that every one of God's children achieves the five fundamentals or whatever you want to make as your list that will enable young people to succeed in this country. And that summit commitment is very much involved in the projects going on all over this country. And to use this day as a jump-start to organize the mentors, the coaches, the tutors, the after-school programs that Vice President Gore spoke about the other day in the child care program -- the child care, the access to health for children, the effective education, the America Reads, the literacy of all children and all young people being asked to serve, not just being served -- those are the goals of the summit. And this King day is another of many steps to give momentum to what I myself call civil rights 2.

Q Do all the states now participate in the holiday or have some -- I mean, do some still not?

SENATOR WOFFORD: I think there are a couple of states that have -- one state still has not made it a holiday. We know -- of our own family of national service, we know projects in 47 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I'm sure every state is participating in the King's -- in the action of service on King's holiday.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:23 P.M. EST