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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 16, 1999
                             TO THE NATION
                            The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On Monday, America will celebrate the birth of one of our greatest heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King. This morning I'd like to talk to you about how we can honor his legacy on that day and all throughout the year by rising to the call of citizen service.

This morning I'm joined by Harris Wofford, the CEO of our Corporation for National Service, a former United States senator and, long before that, a close friend and advisor to Dr. King. Five years ago, then Senator Wofford and Congressman John Lewis of Georgia cosponsored a bill to encourage Americans to devote Martin Luther King Day to serving in their communities. And I was proud to sign it into law. We believe that this national holiday should be a day on, not a day off, for as Dr. King once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is what are you going to do for others."

On Monday, more than 100,000 Americans, including students, soldiers, ministers, seniors, and members of the AmeriCorps national service program will fan out all across their communities to paint schools, clean neighborhoods, read to children. There's still time for you to sign up. You can do so at

Now, in 1993, we created AmeriCorps to give young people a chance to serve in their communities and, in the process, to earn some money for college. We gave them a chance to serve not just for a day, but all year round. And since then, 100,000 young people have taken the AmeriCorps pledge. They've done remarkable things. Since Dr. King's last birthday, they've rehabilitated thousands of homes, immunized tens of thousands of children, tutored hundreds of thousands of students, performed millions of hours of service.

Just as important, our diverse AmeriCorps members are learning lessons that will last a lifetime. In the words of one member, "It's unity, people working together. You don't see color. You see people who have come together with just one purpose." For all these reasons I will ask Congress to increase its support for AmeriCorps this year.

There are many other ways citizens can honor Dr. King. For one thing, you can give the gift of life by donating blood. America's blood supplies are now critically low because severe winter weather has hindered blood drives in several regions. I urge every American to find out where you can donate blood by calling 1-800-Give Life.

We can also honor Dr. King by working in our own neighborhoods to promote racial reconciliation. Today I am proud to release a report growing out of our Presidential Initiative on Race. It's called, Pathways To One America in the 21st Century, and it's a guide to some of our communities' best ways of building that illusive one America -- one neighborhood, one school system, one workplace at a time.

For example, thanks to a creative initiative in Greater Philadelphia, students from different parts of town have formed teams to design and then conduct projects such as food drives or after-school programs for younger kids. In the beginning, suburban students and city students tended to stick to themselves. By gradually the students discovered the things they had in common, and by the end, the barriers had broken down. It has been a stunning success.

To learn more about this promising practice, and more than 100 others, please visit the White House website. We want every community in America to get involved in projects such as these.

Until all children of all backgrounds have the chance to live up to their God-given potential, free from want, in a world at peace, Dr. King's work, and our work, will not be complete. To honor what would have been Dr. King's 70th birthday, I urge all Americans to rise to the highest calling in our land -- the calling of active citizenship. For if we work together as true neighbors, we can realize Dr. King's most enduring dream.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:11 A.M. EST