Wish You Were Here: On MLK Day of Service

Nada Shawish is a communications specialist at Islamic Relief USA.

I will start by saying this: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is for everyone. It’s not just an African-American holiday. It’s not just meant for those who have faced discrimination in this country. It’s for everyone. What that means is that it’s everyone’s responsibility to uphold Dr. King’s magnificent words.

It’s everyone’s job to protect civil liberties and move our country in the right direction—away from social injustice and toward equality—away from discrimination and toward respect for each other.

We do this by working together for a better world. At Islamic Relief USA, that’s what happened on MLK Day of Service. And we’re so grateful for all the friends who joined us.

All of IRUSA headquarters staff dedicated the day to serve the public. Staff members worked side by side with volunteers, members of other organizations and groups and residents of communities in

need at six locations in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.. IRUSA runs U.S. Programs year-round, all around the country, but our staff at the headquarters in Virginia hope our new MLK Day tradition will set a precedent for future service days.

At the end of MLK Avenue in southeast Washington, D.C., I joined colleagues and volunteers to serve hot meals at America’s Islamic Heritage Museum. We gave clothing and water to anyone who needed it. We even unloaded an entire truck of fresh foods for anyone who needed help with groceries: tomatoes, yogurt, buttermilk, cheeses, bread, juice, cabbage and more.

I handled the fresh tuna packs—more than 200 people got enough for themselves and their families to enjoy. Probably best of all, we laughed and talked and made friends in the community—people of all colors, ages, religious backgrounds and ethnicities. We talked politics. We talked solutions. We looked for common ground and found it. And we talked about ways to work together again, soon.


Other locations did good work too.

  • At two local supermarkets, Islamic Relief USA staff and volunteers set up a table to accept food donations from willing grocery shoppers—and grocery shoppers were more than willing! A truck-full of groceries was delivered to the Arlington Food Assistance Center. They’ve been serving low-income communities with supplemental groceries and healthy meals since 1988.
  • At IRUSA headquarters, volunteers and staff packed healthy lunches—more than 1,000 of them! The lunches were delivered to the Central Union Mission in Washington, D.C.—a Christian nonprofit organization that has been helping hungry and homeless residents throughout the region. It’s the oldest social service agency in D.C., serving Americans since 1884.
  • In Maryland, staff rolled up their sleeves (and cuffed their pants) to clean up the environment. Our team joined about 200 other people of all ages—many children too—collecting garbage from the water and land along Sligo Creek, a tributary of the Anacostia River.
  • Volunteers also made goodie bags for vulnerable children with special needs and seed balls to plant in underserved neighborhoods.

I wish you were there because I think you would’ve felt Dr. King’s words as deeply as he meant them to be felt. I did. And I wish Dr. King were there too. He would have wanted to see this kind of day every single day of the year until such days might not be needed.

If we can’t combat the violence, the intolerance, the social injustice and the inequality everywhere at once, we can make an effort to do what in necessary to sow seeds of friendship and neighborliness in our individual communities.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

MLK Day of Service is about social responsibility. And it’s about time we all served regularly to change minds and hearts towards a better culture.


To find out how you can volunteer with Islamic Relief USA or start your own fundraiser click here.