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Honoring a Legacy of Service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Secretary Vilsack thanked the employees of USDA for their work in support of Dr. King's life and legacy of service to the American people. You can read his letter below:

On Monday, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose legacy in support of a unified and equal America gives profound meaning to what our efforts in public service can and should look like. Dr. King believed we are each stronger when we lift up our neighbors. He lived his life advocating on behalf of the idea that we are better as a nation when no one is left behind.

As we enter the final year of this Administration and I begin to look back on the progress we’ve made as a Department, I’d like to reflect on the ways the dedicated employees of USDA have honored Dr. King’s dream by creating opportunities for—and upholding the unalienable rights of—every American.

USDA Mississippi Employees Contribute Time, Effort on Martin Luther King Day of Service

Earlier this month, all Mississippi agencies and staff were invited to participate in USDA’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service by volunteering two hours of their time to a non-profit organization of their choice. Three USDA Rural Development Mississippi State Office employees, Jennifer Jimerson, Ericka Butler, and Michelle Wilkerson volunteered at Stewpot Community Services in Jackson, serving meals for lunch.

The very heart of Stewpot is the noon meal its staff and volunteers serve each day of the year. This meal serves as the center of each day as well as the heart of the Stewpot philosophy. Rich and poor, black and white … all God's children come together over a nourishing meal. More than 120 people a day are physically and spiritually fed in the community kitchen and 50 meals are delivered to shut-ins in the area. Volunteers are always needed to lend a hand in the Stewpot Community Kitchen.

USDA Rural Development Honors the Memory of a Crew Member During Martin Luther King Day of Service

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

Those words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seem particularly prophetic for staff at USDA Rural Development in Arizona.

As staff was planning for the federal Martin Luther King Day of Service, we received news that our friend on the USDA Phoenix building cleaning crew, Elia Zepeda, was ill and in the hospital. Within days she slipped into a coma and died.

Elia’s cheerful personality greeted many USDA Rural Development employees at the Arizona State Office as they entered or exited the building each day. Although we never saw her in anything but her blue Goodwill uniform, it was clear that, although she loved her job, she was much more than a “cleaning lady.”

USDA Staff in Mississippi Honor the Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King with a Day of Service

On January 12, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack recognized and celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday by declaring a National Service Day for all USDA employees. The National Service Day honored Dr. King’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Events were held simultaneously at all USDA Offices followed by a variety of Service Projects conducted in communities nationwide. USDA Rural Development Jackson, Mississippi state office employees, Michelle Wilkerson, Eliza Garcia, Ericka Butler, and Jennifer Jimerson spent National Service Day volunteering at the Jackson Stewpot Community Center.

MLK Day - A Day to Serve, Reflect and Chart a New Path For Civil Rights

Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision and legacy by helping others in need.  USDA employees from across the country will observe this day through service projects in their communities, working to fulfill Dr. King’s belief that "everybody can be great because everybody can serve."

As we take a moment to think about MLK’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and his commitment to making this country a better place to live, USDA is reminded of the steps we have taken to correct errors, learn from past mistakes, and to chart a stronger path for the future where all Americans are treated with dignity and respect by USDA employees.