Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an incredible leader and an iconic figure in the American Civil Rights movement of the 60s. After his assassination in 1968, civil rights leaders petitioned for a day of recognition in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. In 1986, we observed the very first Martin Luther King Day (MLK Day for short) in the United States. MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service, so the best way to honor Dr. King’s legacy is to serve your community. Read on for a few ideas of ways you can thoughtfully celebrate the Civil Rights icon.
1. Read about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement
Many of us only know what we were taught in our history classes, but Dr. King was a multi-faceted father, husband, and leader. Make time to reflect on his life by reading his own words — both in books and speeches — to get a better picture of who Dr. King was as a person. Learn about the painful history of race in America which made Dr. King’s work necessary, and discover what he endured during his time as an organizer. You will find he faced a lot of opposition but continued to organize individuals, despite threats to his life and family. When you understand Dr. King’s life more fully, it may contextualize the current fight for racial justice in a new light.
2. Take a stand against racial injustice
Martin Luther King, Jr. was known for taking direct action via marches and protests. He delivered powerful speeches at rallies such as the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery March. To honor his legacy, consider joining a Black Lives Matter march near you, or check with local organizers in your community to find out where you can best serve. Invite friends to join you — and meet up beforehand to make protest signs — if you’re intimidated about going alone. Lastly, if you are avoiding protests due to COVID-19, you can reach out to local organizations to find out what help they need. They may be looking for phone bankers, graphic designers, or other virtual volunteers, so reach out and find out how you can best serve.
3. Donate your dollars to serve your community
MLK encouraged Americans to participate in vigorous and positive action, quickly. He understood the importance of a sense of urgency as it related to racial injustice. Today, those same urgencies still exist. If donating your time is not an option, consider donating funds to national organizations — like Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, or Center for Policing Equity — or local organizations in your area dedicated to addressing racial inequality. To maximize your impact, use Evite Donations to create a virtual fundraiser.
4. Make a lifelong commitment to service (and allyship)
The path to racial justice requires consistency as well as a long-term commitment. Thinking that the Civil Rights movement ended racism in the United States is incorrect, as it is just as important now to fight racial injustice as it was when Dr. King died in 1968. On MLK Day, consider making a longer commitment with your time or money to help make a difference. Commit to being an ally and work to dismantle systemic racism by speaking up when you see or hear racist comments. Most importantly, show up to stand up for the cause in all aspects of life — at work and school, among friends and relatives, and when you cast your vote at the ballot box. By doing this, we can continue to share Dr. King’s message and legacy for generations to come.