How to Celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

by Robin Mitzcavitch, Director of Religious Exploration

In 1983, after years of advocacy, Martin Luther King Jr Day was established as a federal holiday. What did that mean? For many, it was another day off from work or school. For many schools and churches we would nod at MLK Jr. and perhaps watch a video with his famous “I have a dream” speech. 

Now, there are so many organizations who are offering ways to turn this holiday, which celebrates MLK Jr., a man who was a pioneer civil rights leader, into a day of service to others. This is the only federal holiday which asks us to use it for a day of service. I am committed to spreading the word. What will you do on January 15th?  

The other question I ask myself: How will I continue my service year round?

Part of the  theme of this year’s MLK Jr Day of Service is “It starts with me.” What a relatable concept, one in which, as a Unitarian Universalist educator, I plan to lift up in all of our classes. Service is not a thing that other people do and we say: “Look at her, it’s amazing that she does so much to help others!” It’s a thing that we all can be engaged in at any level. “It starts with me,” says that even my one small contribution matters, and when I contribute, I become part of a beloved community which is made up of many types of people. In this community, to view it as beloved, we understand that all beings are worthy of dignity, equity, love and compassion

According to the King Center, Martin King King Jr. had six principles of nonviolence, which were inspired by Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi.

King said the six principles should be embraced as a lifestyle. The six principles are:

  • 1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  • 2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  • 3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice or evil, not people.
  • 4. Nonviolence holds that unearned, voluntary suffering for a just cause can educate and transform people and societies.
  • 5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
  • 6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

How to Celebrate Martin Luther King Day 2024?

Celebrating Martin Luther King Day can be done in various meaningful ways that honor Dr. King’s legacy and promote his ideals. Here are some ways to celebrate:

  • Attend Commemorative Events: Many communities organize parades, lectures, and other events that celebrate Dr. King’s life and message.
  • Engage in Community Service: Participate in volunteer activities or service projects that benefit your community, aligning with Dr. King’s commitment to social justice.
  • Educational Activities: Learn more about the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s work through books, documentaries, or visits to relevant museums and historical sites.
  • Reflect on Social Justice: Take time to reflect on the progress made in the fight for civil rights and consider how you can contribute to a more just society.
  • Spread Awareness: Share Dr. King’s messages of equality, love, and nonviolence on social media to inspire others.  Educators and students are invited to attend a “Beloved Community Teach-in” on January 12th offered by the King Center.

On Sunday, January 14, our children will spend the morning preparing a service project which we get involved with every year. Thanks to our own beloved community, we’ve collected lots of winter gear like hats, gloves, and scarves. These items will get distributed in places where people can pick them up if they need the extra warmth this winter. We call it a “park drop.” We label each item and leave a hat on a bench, a scarf tied around a small tree, mittens clipped to a fence. The label says: “I am not lost. Please take me if you need me or give this to someone who may.”

In addition to labeling the items and getting them ready for the COA class and the Youth Groups’ park drops, we will ask each child to take some labeled items home with them so they can do their own “drop” during their MLK Jr day off from school. This is a small and tangible way to start the ball rolling and the wheels turning. We will also be discussing other ideas of things to do for the day of service. 

What will I do? I will be volunteering at the In the Hour of Need Family Shelter as overnight coverage, because, after all, it “starts with me.”

“Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.” This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together– black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu– a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace”  MLK Jr.

With Blessings of Peace,