- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pushing his effort to turn the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday into a day of service, President Obama served lunch to the homeless at a shelter in Washington on Monday before commemorating the civil rights movement with more formal events at the White House and at the Kennedy Center.

Mr. Obama sought to recapture some of the hope that propelled him to office two days before the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

The nation’s first black president urged Americans to “stretch out of our comfort zones and try to do something for others and to reach out and learn about things that maybe we’ve shied away from.”

“I think sometimes in celebration of Dr. King’s birthday, we act as if this history was so long ago,” said Mr. Obama, who hosted a White House discussion on the icon’s legacy with a group of black seniors and their grandchildren.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama and his family served coffee, barbecued chicken and potato salad for an hour to about 150 patrons at the So Others Might Eat soup kitchen in Northwest. One woman reportedly broke into tears when being served by the president.

Despite the nail-biter of a special Senate race in Massachusetts, partisan tempers took a break from flaring as both parties honored the legacy of King.

“Though Rev. King’s work remains unfinished, his dream is closer to being realized every time someone encounters discrimination and refuses to accept it,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said.

“Rev. King’s legacy of faith and service is present today in communities working together to overcome tough economic times, and in the helping hand we now extend to the people of Haiti in their hour of need.”

Mr. Obama and wife Michelle made a stop Monday afternoon at the American Red Cross office in Washington, where they met with staffers at the organization’s Disaster Operations Center, who are helping coordinate the response effort to last week’s massive earthquake in Haiti. Mr. Obama described the $21 million in donations made to the group via text message as a tribute to the generosity of the American people.

Elsewhere around the country, marches and parades took place, including one in Montgomery, Ala., where King led a bus boycott against segregation in the 1950s.

At the Atlanta church where King preached, Cornel West of Princeton University told worshippers they must “protect and respect” Mr. Obama, but also “correct him if the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is going to stay alive.”

Facing an uncertain endgame on his signature health care reform legislation and lower job-approval ratings, Mr. Obama did wade into politics briefly at a Sunday church service honoring King. He acknowledged that not every hope had been realized one year into his presidency.

“On the heels of that victory over a year ago, there were some who suggested that somehow we had entered into a post-racial America, all those problems would be solved. There were those who argued that because I had spoke of a need for unity in this country that our nation was somehow entering into a period of post-partisanship. That didn’t work out so well,” he said before the congregation at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church.

“As we meet here today, one year later, we know the promise of that moment has not yet been fully fulfilled.”

The president invoked the civil rights icon to temper expectations, saying that King understood that “change wouldn’t come overnight.”

Later on Monday night, the first family attended a musical celebration of King at the Kennedy Center, called “Let Freedom Ring.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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