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How can you make a difference this Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day falls on Monday 16th January 2023 and this provides us with not only a chance to look back and reflect on the work of the civil rights leader to strive for equality, but also an opportunity to educate, listen and address the societal issues we still face today.

What is Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday in the United States, celebrated annually on the third Monday in January to honor the work of Martin Luther King Jr in the struggle to achieve equality for people of all colors through the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Martin Luther King Jr was born in Atlanta, Georgia and dedicated his life to this work. His famous ‘I have a dream’ speech at the Washington D.C march in 1963 is still recognized worldwide today as iconic for equality and freedom. His leadership in the civil rights movement was central to the movement’s success in being able to end the segregation of African-Americans in the United States.

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 at the age of 39, he was laid to rest in Atlanta, Georgia, close to his birth home. There were immediately calls for a national holiday of remembrance and the legislation for this holiday was finally passed in 1983, with the first nationwide observance of this holiday happening in 1986.

Is Martin Luther King Day a National Holiday?

MLK Day is a national holiday and all 50 states made it a state government holiday by 2000. With this day being a national holiday, many public schools, post offices, libraries, banks and government offices close on this date.

MLK Day is also the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities, it’s often referred to as a ‘day on, not a day off’. As a national day of service, people are encouraged to volunteer in local communities as a way to make a real difference and demand social justice. Let’s take a look at the ways you can make this possible.

How can I get involved this year?

There are lots of ways you can take part to make a difference this year, whether individually or as part of a group. Here’s a list of some ways you can commemorate the life of Martin Luther King this year:

In-person volunteering:

The day now serves annually as an opportunity for many Americans to not only reflect and educate, but to also volunteer in local communities as a way to make a real difference and demand social justice.

MLK Day is designated as a National Day of Service to encourage all Americans to volunteer as a way to improve their communities and strengthen ties with others.

If you would like to get involved and give back, there are a number of organizations that coordinate these opportunities. AmeriCorps, the independent agency of the United States government, offers a searchable list of volunteer opportunities near you for MLK Day through their website, and you can also register your own volunteer opportunity on their listings should you have one!

The American Red Cross also asks for people to donate their time & talent to help people and communities in need. As a predominantly volunteer based organization, they recognize all too well the difference that one person can make, and to honor the incredible work of Martin Luther King, they ask people to help any way that they can. From becoming a Red Cross volunteer to making an appointment to donate blood, there are simple ways you can have a real impact this year.

Learn about MLK and educate others:

Dr King’s message still rings true today and his nonviolent approach to promoting equality and a better world for all has many important lessons. This Martin Luther King Day is a great chance to dedicate time to familiarize yourself with his work towards the civil rights movement and there are lots of ways to do so.

Head out to your local library and pick up a book about MLK and the civil rights movement. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute has a list of recommended books here.

Spend time watching and analyzing the numerous speeches from MLK (particularly his famous ‘I have a dream…’ speech, which is still so well known today).
If you’re close enough, or are open to travelling, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, is running a ‘King Day’ on January 16, with free admission to the museum from 8am to 6pm.

Become an ‘MLK Day Champion’ this year through the AmeriCorps website. It’s free to register and Champions receive invitations to MLK Day planning webinars, access to national marketing materials, an opportunity to invite AmeriCorps leadership to your volunteer event and an exclusive MLK Day Champions badge for you to post on your website/social media channels.

Set out to speak to someone who was alive during this period of the 1950s and 60s in the United States and hear a first hand account of how impactful the work of Martin Luther King Jr was in securing a fairer society for all Americans.

Dedicating time to any of the above is not only a great way to further your own understanding and reflect on the life of Martin Luther King Jr and his struggle for equality, but it also provides an opportunity to educate and enlighten those around you too.

Speak with family and friends this MLK Day, share resources that you find, post on social media, write a blog - the opportunities to contribute are endless. This can be through sharing lesser known facts or even being able to share your own feelings and how the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr still resonate today, along with what work still needs to be done.

Equality may be a huge subject to comprehend, and one that you may feel is hard to make an impact on, but in the words of Dr. King himself - ‘you don’t need to see the whole staircase, just take the first step’.

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash
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