President Obama and Vice President Biden were joined by their wives today as they participated in National Day of Service events to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were off to Burrville Elementary School in Northeast D.C. to help with some painting and repairing. They were joined by members of City Year, an Americorps program that places young people in urban areas to help serve the community for a year.
The Obamas helped stain a bookshelf before addressing the participants (Michelle Obama thought the president did a "fine job" with his staining.)
Both thanked the volunteers for serving, and Mr. Obama declared that "This is really what America's about" - giving back to your community and helping others.
"We think about the fact that this is Dr. King's birthday we're going to be celebrating," he said, paraphrasing Dr. King's exhortation to be a "drum major" for justice, peace, and righteousness: "Everybody wants to be first, everybody wants to be a drum major. But if you're going to be a drum major, be a drum major for service...be a drum major for looking out for other people."
The first lady thanked the participants for serving - and doing so "happily" - noting that the spirit of service represented in the room was "a symbol of the kind of work that we need to be doing for the next four years."
To the young people in attendance, she said, "We're passing the baton to you all," and urged them to remember that "as long as you're pulling somebody up with you, you're doing the right thing."
Meanwhile, across town at the D.C. Armory, Vice President Biden and Jill Biden were rolling up their sleeves as well, assembling care packages for U.S. troops, wounded warriors, veterans, and first responders. The event, called "Unite America in Service", was organized by Points of Light, a volunteer service organization.
After pitching in - and getting chummy with other volunteers as only he could - the vice president addressed the crowd, paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy of "absolute service," and thanked his fellow volunteers for helping keep that legacy alive.
He reserved special praise for the troops serving overseas in some of the most "godforsaken areas" on Earth, saying "Thank God" the war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close.
He also lauded the families of service members, urging the audience to remember the words of the romantic poet John Keats, who said, "They also serve who only stand and wait."
"Although there's only one percent fighting these wars," Biden said, "99 percent of the nation owes them a debt of obligation."