Ideas to Make Martin Luther King Day More Than Just Another Day Off

February 16, 2012
Cafe Mom
Janelle Harris


It’s early in the morning, it’s a federal holiday, and chances are you’re sloughing around the house in your Snuggie and fuzzy socks in personal celebration of not having to trek to the j-o-b. Even though we’re still fairly fresh off the holidays, it’s a gift from the heavens to not have to wake up early, get dressed, and move from your favorite section of the sofa if you don’t want to. And you’re well within your right to spend your day just like that.

In honor of Dr. King, who would've been 82 yesterday, and his commitment to making the world a more just, more equitable place, some of my friends and I are volunteering around the city in service to the community. In fact, it’s a movement across the country, not just here in D.C. It really is a day on, not a day off. But there are plenty of ways to participate in honoring MLK. Google around to see if similar activities are being hosted in your area:

Be a patron of the arts. In Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet offered an African dance class in commemoration of the holiday. Here in the District, the Kennedy Center and Georgetown University will host “Let Freedom Ring,” a free musical tribute to Dr. King featuring one-man musical machine Bobby McFerrin. Down in Dallas, a youth art exhibit uses quotes from Dr. King as inspiration for visual and performing artwork.

Go to church. Even though he was a Baptist minister, religious institutions everywhere are hosting activities and events dedicated to the legacy of Dr. King. The 24th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth, for example, will honor his life, his continued work, and peaceful mantra on January 21. The Islamic community is converging today in Seattle for the Washington State Muslims Day at the Capitol. Although controversial — folks who oppose the event argue it detracts from King’s birthday and say event organizers should’ve picked another day — it does embody MLK’s spirit of inclusion.

Get the kids involved. The Bronzeville Children's Museum has hosted a program featuring children’s crafts. Most major cities have a parade the kiddies should enjoy and all 397 national parks across the country will offer free admission today to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Even if you don’t feel like leaving home, you can make celebrating the holiday a family affair.

Head back to school. Colleges and universities everywhere are holding on-campus events. For the seventh year in a row, NYU is commemorating Dr. King’s visit to the school and carrying out his legacy by hosting week-long programming from February 6–11. This year’s theme, “The Future of Diversity: Here and Now,” is intended to open up critical dialogue about social change and social justice. Just like Dr. King would’ve wanted.

Most importantly, volunteer. Slide into a pair of latex gloves and dish out food to the homeless or read to senior citizens at a retirement home. Spend time at an animals’ shelter or pick up trash in the neighborhood. Whatever you do — for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks — will honor the legacy of a man who dedicated his whole life to making so many people’s issues his own. Women’s rights, people living below the poverty line, returning soldiers, and especially, African-Americans.

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve,” he once said. “You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” Get out and get involved, today and any day.

How are you celebrating Dr. King’s birthday?