Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a national holiday celebrated this year on Jan. 21. You may be planning to run errands or sleep in if you have the day off, but the holiday holds greater meaning. It’s a time meant to honor Dr. King’s contributions to the civil rights movement and reflect on his dream of equality for all.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, but his birthdate wasn’t declared a holiday until 1983 when Ronald Reagan signed off on the holiday bill. Each year, the holiday falls on the third Monday of the year in remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on Jan. 15.
In 1994, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday was dubbed by Congress as “a day of service” where people come together to volunteer and build community. If you’re looking for ways to honor his legacy on your day off, here are a few things you can do.
Visit a museum or civil rights landmark near you.
Immersing yourself in African American history is one way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. There are museums across the county that cover different aspects of the African American experience.
Interested in finding a museum near you? The Association of African American Museums (AAAM) is a non-profit that supports African and African American-focused museums stateside and internationally. They have a directory of African American museums, archives, libraries, galleries and cultural centers that you may be able to visit on MLK Day. The list is quite diverse, with locations like the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (Center for African American Military History) in Houston and the African Heritage Fire Fighters Historical Society in Baltimore. Check out the directory here.
If you can’t make it to an African American museum or landmark, consider visiting a cultural location or exhibit of another race. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision was peace and unity among all races and faiths. Seeking to understand the history and experiences of other people can foster unity.
Volunteer for a cause.
Another way to recognize the holiday is volunteering to help others. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for building community and advocating for nonviolence as a force for change. Being of service to others on this day is a way to show honor to his legacy.
If you’re already a member of a religious organization or another club, you may be able to find ways to volunteer through them. You can also turn to the website for The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency dedicated to organizing volunteer efforts in the U.S. — the agency’s list includes a wide variety of ways people can get involved. Organizations are looking for volunteers to help with everything from web development and hairstyling to animal care and peer counseling. Search for volunteer opportunities here.
YSA (Youth Service America), Samaritan’s Feet and The ARC of United States are MLK Day of Service grant recipients who may also be looking for volunteers in your area. The YSA is an organization that engages youth in acts of service, Samaritan’s Feet is a non-profit that provides shoes to children in need, and The ARC of United States advocates for the protection of people’s rights who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Donate cash or items.
Museums and other organizations may rely on donations to stay running. If you can’t donate time, you can donate other items of value. The King Center, for example, started by Coretta Scott King in 1968 accepts donations for programs and initiatives; you can find out more here.
You can also donate to your church or any other organization with a mission that you feel passionate about. Be sure to research organizations before you hand over the money: donation scams are rampant. Vet the organization and make sure you understand how the funds will be used. Check out our guide that shares tell-tale signs of a donation scam. Keep records of your donations as well — charitable donations may qualify for a tax write-off.
Besides money, physical items like clothes, cars and electronics can be donated. Reach out to the Salvation Army and Goodwill to see what items they’re accepting. You can even contact local religious organizations, daycare centers, schools and after-school programs to find out if they are in need of items you have available to donate, like books or computers. Canned food, canned fruit, oil, spices and other items may be be accepted at food banks as well; check your local food bank to find out what items they need. Donating physical items may also be a tax write-off. Learn more about how to make charitable donations that are tax deductible here on the IRS website.
Give blood or host a blood drive.
Giving blood or plasma is a way to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that can potentially save someone’s life. Local schools, colleges and blood banks may hold blood drives near you. Visit the American Red Cross to find out more information about the eligibility requirements and how to donate.
The American Red Cross also shares the process of how to host your own blood drive. Your responsibility as the host is to organize the location, find volunteers to help out and recruit blood donors. The Red Cross will bring the equipment and trained staff to collect donations.
Jan. 21 may be a highly anticipated day off for you, but it’s also meant to be a day of remembrance and service that can be fun for the entire family. Choose an activity that you can do together and make a day out of it. Visiting a historical landmark, volunteering or donating may take just a few hours, but it can give you lasting memories and a sense of satisfaction that you’re doing your part.
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