President Obama honored the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today by issuing a call for public service, saying there is "no better way to celebrate Dr. King than to do something on behalf of others."
"At a time when the country has been going through some difficult economic times, for us to be able to come together as a community, people from all different walks of life, and make sure that we're giving back, that's ultimately what makes us the strongest, most extraordinary country on Earth, is because we pull together when times are good, but also when times are hard," Obama told volunteers at the Browne Education Center in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he participated in a service project with his wife and daughter, Malia.
The president also reflected on King's own words about public service and acknowledged the controversy surrounding a quote inscribed on the new MLK memorial on the National Mall, which is being changed after critics claimed King's words were misrepresented.
"What he really said was that all of us can be a drum major for service, all of us can be a drum major for justice. There's nobody who can't serve. Nobody who can't help somebody else," the president said.
The paraphrased inscription reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." The original quote, taken from a sermon delivered two months before King was assassinated in 1968, was far more modest. "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter," King said.
After greeting other volunteers, the Obamas helped assemble a reading nook for pre-school students in the school library. The president and first lady later painted two quotes from King on the walls surrounding the reading corner.
Standing on a stepladder with blue paint in hand, the president filled in the words "The time is always right to do what is right," while Mrs. Obama painted, "I have a dream" on the adjacent wall.
Today marked the third year in a row that the first family has participated in a service project to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day.