About Whitney Kaulbach

I teach High school and middle school students World History, AP World History, Reading Instruction, and Literacy Specialist.

Inauguration Day falls on the legal public holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King January 21, 2013. Whether this was coincidence or a conspiratorial plot,it is the second time that this holiday has coincided with a presidential inauguration.  Do you remember President Bill Clinton’s inauguration  in 1997?

The observance of Dr. King’s birthday has been a federal holiday since 1983 when it was signed into legislation; however, it has only been recognized as a national day of service since 1994. Dr. King’s legacy as a motivator and Civil Rights leader is celebrated through services that are meant to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers and create solutions to social problems ( King Center Website). Individual or communities that volunteer for organized projects or design their own should consider the tangible and spiritual gains made through their involvement. This is well and good except that I am unable to find organized service projects here in the state of Vermont.

Shocked, I clicked on the state link to the MLK Day of Service and was met with the message that “your search did not match any volunteering activities.” I tried several town zip codes and was delivered that same response. As shocking as this is, this is not a surprise. Being a Vermonter has always been a conundrum for me. Currently, Vermont is 95.5% white according to the US Census. We are considered a blue state, a liberal state, yet we do not  have a diverse culture. We have an interesting history of intense poverty and struggle and it was well into the 20th century before the state would accept federal assistance or build actual highways. We sent volunteers to fight in the Civil War and demonized pacifists during WWI. We deplore inhumanity, yet are inexperienced when required to acknowledge race or ethnicity. Most Vermonters would rather avoid race issues than risk saying or thinking the wrong thing. We do not intentionally snub the national day of service and would argue that we don’t need a federal holiday to take care of a neighbor, rebuild from hurricane damage or pull a vehicle out of a snow embankment. It isn’t ignorance that keeps Vermonters from nationally recognizing a DAY ON, it is that we are all working in a service industry that serves others.

I have taught at the same school for sixteen years and believed that it was sensible for students to have the day off while our school faculty attends in-service. Only recently have I begun to understand the difference between a day ON and a day OFF. A day ON is meant to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together to improve lives and achieve common goals. Best of all, the day is meant to allow individuals to live up to the purpose and potential of America, which means that we don’t have to be limited in what we think we should accomplish.

I intend to be fully participatory in my day of school in-service and this year I intend to use my free time after work to engage in a community project. If it means spearheading a project, I will shoulder that responsibility.I did discover that Henry Louis Gates Jr, well- known Harvard professor and African American scholar, will be the keynote speaker for the University of Vermont’s week honoring Dr. Martin Luther King.  The Vermont Historical Society has always provided resources and opportunities to celebrate Civil Rights and Suffrage. My goal as a teacher is to make changes that start with me. I will be ON in 2013. When I click on the site for service projects on Dr. King’s birthday, with the  zip code 05655 next year, there will be at least one community project listed for others to engage in.

How does your community celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday?

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