Suzie Brubaker and other volunteers helped pack supply kits at JCC Mid-Westchester for UJA’s annual MLK Day of Service.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal “I Have a Dream” speech was first seen on our old black and white TV sets in 1963. Today, a kaleidoscope of people, young and old, across generations, are stirred by the power of those words, heeding Dr. King’s call to action.

On Monday, January 20, 2020, they wore purple.

Nearly 6,500 people donned grape-colored volunteer shirts to participate in UJA’s annual MLK Day of Service. Scores of volunteers — ranging from stalwart seniors to wide-eyed toddlers — rolled up their sleeves to pack meals, assemble emergency supply kits, prepare care packages, paint murals, and perform a host of other community service activities at more than 60 project sites across the New York area.

Some came to honor the convictions of their predecessors while others, as younger parents, came to pass those values on to their children. All came to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who reminded us “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

Suzie Brubaker, whose purple-dyed hair matched her purple shirt, was proud to emulate the values of her Holocaust-surviving parents. Suzie was volunteering at the JCC Mid-Westchester, which hosted 250 people in packing more than 600 supply kits.

“My parents were activists coming out of the Holocaust … I remember when he [Dr. King] was shot, I remember marching on Washington,” she recalled. “He knew he was going to die for this cause, so the least we can do in this first-world suburb is to take a little time to help other people in any way we can.”

Gwen Merkin and her children volunteer on MLK Day of Service.

While Suzie very clearly saw her efforts as following in the footsteps of her parents and Dr. King, Gwen Merkin, a young mother of two, was primarily concerned with the lessons her children would learn from the MLK Day of Service.

“It makes them think about how to make it easier for people who are struggling,” Gwen explained. “The next generation is going to face much more than we have. It’s important to inform and prepare them for the new world.”

Whether volunteers felt guided by the past or prompted by the future, each demonstrated a commitment to Dr. King’s fight for social justice and the Jewish tradition’s transmission of social responsibility from generation to generation.