Most of us know that Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrated on the third Monday of January each year, honors a great civil rights leader.
What you may not know is that it is also the only federal holiday designated by Congress as a national day of service.
“The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others,” said Coretta Scott King of the holiday.
After King was assassinated in 1968, his widow pushed for a national holiday to honor his civil rights work. Of his many achievements, one of the most well-known is organizing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, during which he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was finally signed into law in 1983.
“Participation in service activities has grown each year as more Americans are encouraged to provide meaningful change in their communities,” said the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Civil Rights.
Here are some ways to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day through acts of service
According to the Office of Civil Rights, service projects can meet a tangible need, such as fixing up a school or senior center in your area, or it can help build a sense of community.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited some in-person activities, service acts can take the form of:
· Sending a meal to someone in need through a meal delivery service
· Serving as a virtual mentor
· Donating money to a charitable cause
· Donating essential items.
AmeriCorps, an independent government agency, can also help connect volunteers with service opportunities based on their zip code.
“The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a defining moment each year when Americans across the country step up to make our communities more equitable and take action to create the Beloved Community of Dr. King’s dream,” said the agency.
Other resources for service activities and opportunities include the American Civil Liberties Union non-profit organization and the NAACP civil rights organization. The groups provide options for people with just a few minutes to spare, such as signing petitions and sending messages to elected officials.
For those in the Atlanta area, where The King Center organization run by Martin Luther King Jr.’s family is located, center-sponsored service projects will be held throughout the holiday on Monday, including donation drives, voter registration and outreach to the city’s homeless community.
“In keeping with Dr. King’s example, let us embrace the belief that our destiny is shared and accept our obligations to each other, future generations and the American people by strengthening the bonds that hold together the most diverse Nation on earth,” said the Office of Civil Rights. “Each one of us can help answer his call by pledging to love and serve.”