Obama Commemorates MLK Day with Service

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President-elect Barack Obama is pushing for commitments to public service, visiting an emergency homeless shelter for teenagers in the nation's capital. Video by AP

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By William Branigin and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 19, 2009; 7:55 PM

Marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the eve of his inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama today urged Americans to act on the slain civil rights leader's vision as he led the nation in a "call to service" aimed at helping people in need.

Obama, who takes the oath of office at noon tomorrow as the nation's 44th president, began his day with a previously unannounced visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet with wounded troops. During the visit, which lasted a little more than an hour, Obama met with 14 service members recovering from wounds they sustained in Iraq or Afghanistan, aides said.

Accompanied by Martin Luther King III, he then headed to a District shelter for homeless teenagers to lend a hand in a project to renovate the facility's rooms.

In a statement marking the national holiday that commemorates King's birthday, Obama said the civil rights leader lived life "in loving service to others."

"As we honor that legacy, it's not a day just to pause and reflect -- it's a day to act," the president-elect said. Noting that Americans are participating in more than 11,000 service projects across the nation, he appealed to people "to turn today's efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching the lives of others in their communities, their cities and their country."

Obama said: "Tomorrow, we will come together as one people on the same mall where Dr. King's dream echoes still. As we do, we recognize that here in America, our destinies are inextricably linked. We resolve that as we walk, we must walk together. And as we go forward in the work of renewing the promise of this nation, let's remember King's lesson -- that our separate dreams are really one."

At the Sasha Bruce Youthwork shelter for homeless teens in Northeast Washington, Obama, wearing a white open-necked shirt, rolled up his sleeves to help paint one of the boys' dormitory rooms under renovation.

"I think this facility here is an example," he said as he used a long-handled roller to apply blue paint to a wall. "These young people have a huge potential that right now is not being tapped. Given the crisis we're in and the hardships so many people are going through, we can't allow any idle hands. Everybody's going to have to be involved. Everybody's going to have to pitch in."

Obama told reporters that the Internet was "an amazing tool" in helping to organize the thousands of service projects underway across the nation today.

"We don't want to just use it to win elections," he said. "We want to use it to rebuild America."

As he worked, Obama remarked to other volunteers and reporters that he once held a summer job as a painter when he was a teenager, making $4 an hour. "This is good practice, because I'm moving into a new house, and I may have to do a few touchups here and there," he joked.

Outside the shelter, more than 300 residents of the neighborhood gathered on a street corner and chanted Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes, we can!"


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