Monday, January 21, 2013 is the day that we observe the work of civil rights visionary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The legislation making Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday was signed in 1983 under the Reagan administration, but it would take an additional 17 years for the entire U.S. to embrace the MLK holiday.

In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday as a national day of service. The idea wasn’t fully enforced until the Obama Administration issued the United We Serve call to action.

On January 19, 2009, President Obama asked Americans to honor the King legacy by serving others in the community. That year and that day, more than 13,000 community service events took place across the country. It was the largest day of volunteer service in the 14 years since Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act.

As part of the United We Serve initiative, the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA), or the Drum Major for Service Award, was established. The award honors ordinary individuals who do extraordinary deeds for those in need. By committing themselves to service, individuals can be recognized through a special pin and award from the U.S. government. As part of the national day of service kickoff, the president will recognize those special individuals throughout the country.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served the black community in the civil rights struggle his entire life. Becoming an ordained minister in 1948 at age 19, the Reverend was arrested 30 times as he demonstrated the need for human rights of all Americans in civil protest.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He died on April 4, 1968. There now stands a new memorial at the National Mall in Washington D.C. honoring Dr. King. The statue, which was opened August 22, 2011, is the first monument at the historical site honoring an African American.