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A job for this holiday

January 15, 1999

If he had not been assassinated in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 70 this year. It is easy for those who heard him in life to imagine him as a senior citizen, a little gray around the temples, perhaps, but with that booming voice still calling for justice for all.

As King himself might have told us, it is one thing to imagine something, but quite another to make it come true. And while the civil rights movement succeeded in wiping out the most egregious of America's raced-based injustices, King's dream of a society where men and women are judged on the content of their character rather than on the color of the skin is a long way from reality.

We had high hopes for President Clinton's call for new dialogue on racial matters last year, but the initiative was overshadowed by the Lewinsky scandal. Gov. Cecil Underwood of West Virginia launched one of his own, praiseworthy because there are so few minority citizens in the state, but nothing like the national dialogue America needs on this most unsettled matter.

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So what can we do? In a copyrighted interview in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, King's widow, Coretta Scott King, says today should be a national day of service, during which people physically help out someone, as opposed to writing a check to some organization.

If on this one day, people of different races can work together and get to know one another, it will begin the process of improving race relations, she said, because that process begins with better relationships among people.

Before another years passes, those organizations dedicated to the spiritual health of the Tri-state area's residents need to craft a plan for such a project, maybe even a series of them, where people of different races can come together for a day and work for the betterment of the community.

The alternative - allowing the King holiday to become like so many others, devoid of meaning except as another day off work - is unthinkable. King gave his life to make this country better; one day of public service is the least we can do to honor his memory and continue his work.

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