MARIETTA, Ga. — The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan 40 years ago. The United States began to mark it as an official federal holiday in 1986. The King family has notably referred to the holiday as a "day on, not a day off." Hundreds of volunteers took that mantra to heart Monday in Marietta.
Volunteers of various backgrounds met up at Books for Africa to clean, sort and pack books for kids of all ages. The nonprofit is located at a warehouse on Cobb Industrial Boulevard and annually distributes 3-4 million books, according to community liaison Jen Hale.
"We are the world’s largest shipper of donated books to the African continent. The books are donated from schools, libraries, individuals, publishing companies, just a lot of different sources," Hale said. "Then we have volunteers we train to help sort and pack the books. They’re helping to spread literacy and that’s huge. That’s a big impact.”
Tiara Berry, a volunteer, graduated from Spelman College. She was helping out Monday with several coworkers. She said promoting literacy falls in line with Dr. King's message of bettering the beloved community.
“Access to knowledge, access to education, access to resources is so important," Berry said. "When I think of the legacy of African-Americans in this country and how they didn’t want us to read during the enslavement era. To be able to give back to students in Africa and children in Africa and show them the importance of learning, reading, writing, arithmetic, can change lives.”
Jordan Knight is familiar with Dr. King's message too, as a former member of the Peace Corps. He heard about Books for Africa from a friend.
“I lived abroad for about two and a half years in a third-world country, and we didn’t have a lot of books," Knight said. "If I can give back and the opportunity presents itself in the community, then I need to do it. I have been on the other side of opening boxes just like this, and seeing kids' faces when they open them up and realize they get to have those books for their own school is just incredible.”
Hale said the nonprofit gets feedback often about the impact it is making abroad, whether it's through social media or letters saying a book club had been started because of volunteer efforts.
“Literacy is a bridge out of poverty. Education is the great equalizer," Hale said. "If you can get a better education, you can improve your circumstances, and that’s very true in rural Africa where there just isn’t much access to education. Dr. King spent a lot of his life promoting education and equal rights for all people. That’s what we’re trying to do, spread education to everybody who wants it.”
Books for Africa is trying to recruit more volunteers. Anyone interested can click here.