- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009


Aiming to inspire the service and sacrifice he will ask from the American people, President-elect Barack Obama spent the day before his inauguration visiting wounded U.S. soldiers and helping to fix up a homeless shelter for runaway teens in D.C.

Mr. Obama said that the occasion of Martin Luther King Day was a call to action.

“Dr. Martin Luther King’s was a life lived in loving service to others,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “As we honor that legacy, it’s not a day just to pause and reflect. It’s a day to act.”

Related TWT story:Obama builds on King’s dream

“I ask the American people to turn today’s efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching the lives of others in their communities, their cities, and their country,” he said.

Mr. Obama, accompanied by Martin Luther King III, spent about two hours helping to renovate the Sasha Bruce House, a home for homeless and runaway youths at the corner of Maryland Ave. and 11th Street.

Dressed in dark jeans and a shirt open at the collar with sleeves rolled up, the president-elect grabbed a roller brush and helped knock out nearly two walls of an upstairs room at the facility.

“Oh, that’s a good stroke there,” he said as he worked the roller, telling the dozen or so teens and young adults working with him that he used to paint professionally - for a summer job when he was 17, making minimum wage, which he said was $4 an hour at the time.

“Seriously, this isn’t rocket science. You take the pole and the roller here, and then you roll it,” he told reporters.

While photographers mobbed Mr. Obama, Martin Luther King III, who was with him, grabbed a paint brush and went to work on his own, doing some of the more intricate paint work around a door.

Mr. Obama said it’s even more important now, “given the crisis we’re in.” He said that was one reason to get the youths at places like the Sasha Bruce House involved.

“We can’t allow any idle hands,” Mr. Obama said. “Everybody’s going to have to pitch in.”

Mr. Obama quoted Mr. King’s father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., on the importance of working hard.

“Dr. King used to say if you sweep floors for a living, them make sure you’re the best floor sweeper there’s ever been,” he said,

Mr. Obama said that was a lesson he took from his conversation with Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of the US Airways plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River last week.

“He said, ‘Me and my crew - we were just doing our job.’ And it made me think, if everybody did their job, whatever that job was, as well as that pilot did, we’d be in pretty good shape,” Mr. Obama said. “Doing your job well, finishing your job, cooperating as a team — all that stuff’s important.”

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, traveled to their own volunteer event, helping to make care packages for U.S. soldiers overseas along with a few thousand volunteers at RFK Stadium.

The crowd there, inside a large tent on the field inside the stadium, turned an assembly line into an impromptu party, cheering for one another, chanting “Obama,” and singing along to music playing in the background.

When Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden walked in, along with Malia Obama, 10, and Sasha, 7, something close to a mob scene erupted. A crowd of people surrounded Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden, along with her daughter Ashley, 27. Malia was separated from her mom and surrounded by people taking pictures, and after two or three minutes, Obama staffers escorted the two young girls out of the tent.

Other elected and government officials were expected to spend time volunteering at the same event, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Earlier in the morning, Mr. Obama spent around an hour talking to troops who are recuperating at Walter Reed, a practice that President Bush made a regular habit.

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama did not bring reporters with him.

Mr. Obama, in his inaugural address Tuesday, is set to call on all Americans to do more for their country in a spirit similar to President Kennedy.

Mr. Obama’s incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said in a TV appearance on Sunday that “to regain America’s greatness and continue to move forward and be an example around the worl…we need that culture of responsibility, not just to be asked of the American people, but that its leaders must also lead by example.”

The inaugural committee did not release the location of Mr. Obama’s service event until he arrived, due to security concerns.

Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden will host a kids concert at the Verizon Center Monday night. Mr. Obama will attend three bipartisan dinners in honor of Gen. Colin Powell, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Mr. Biden.

President Bush, meanwhile, spent his last morning as commander-in-chief calling other world leaders.

Mr. Bush called Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Israeli President, Shimon Peres, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

“The leaders thanked President Bush for his work and for the spirit of cooperation and friendship developed in the last eight years,” said Bush spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

“President Bush expressed his gratitude for the kind hospitality all these leaders showed him and Mrs. Bush over the years and told them how much he enjoyed working with them during his two terms,” Mr. Johndroe said.

And White House press secretary Dana Perino said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been designated successor to the president-elect if anything happens to Mr. Obama on inauguration day.

“In order to ensure continuity of government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been designated by the outgoing administration, with the concurrence of the incoming administration, to serve as the designated successor during inauguration day, Tuesday, January 20,” Mrs. Perino said.

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