How will you be spending your holiday on January 19th? Will you be sleeping in, grateful for the shortened week to come? Watch another season of your latest Netflix obsession? Catch up on work or studying? Will you be treating it like any other long weekend? Or, will you join the thousands of people who will use this day to create stronger communities through service?
What is MLK Day? Why is it important?
In 1983, Congress signed legislation that created Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on the third Monday in January. In honour of Dr. King’s vision for equality and justice through community efforts, MLK Day is the only federal holiday that is designated as a day of service. People from all walks of life are encouraged to improve the lives of those in their communities by taking a pause from their regular schedule to take action against pressing issues, such as civil rights, education, the environment, health, hunger, and poverty.
We can learn from Dr. King’s life by modeling his dedication to solving social issues through nonviolent community collaboration. It’s “A Day On, Not a Day Off” where we can explore our ability to make positive change through service. The hope is that this celebration will illustrate that those who volunteer can exercise tremendous influence in our communities.
Who will serve?
Anyone and everyone are encouraged to volunteer on MLK Day. It is important that both non-profits and businesses in the community collaborate. Non-profits can organize special service events to bring people together around a specific social cause. Businesses can help by sponsoring similar volunteer events or giving their employees time off for service. Both non-profit and for-profit organizations are key to the success of MLK Day.
How can you share your service?
Not only is it important to serve on MLK Day, it is also important to make your service visible to others in your community. Today it is easier than ever to promote service through social media.
Before MLK Day, share and invite people to volunteer with you through social media and by speaking with your friends, colleagues, and students. Organizations can also join the MLK Day Service network to connect with community members and access resources to help raise awareness and gain funds. Serving as a family can also help form a tradition of service and reinforce community values.
After your day of service, be sure to use social media to share how you volunteered. MLK Day is a chance to replace a lazy Monday off with meaningful action; we can replace one social media post or photo about ourselves with something we can do for others. With service also comes advocacy, and sharing your experiences and actions can help others become involved.
America’s Sunday Supper
A unique way of getting involved with MLK Day is to host a Sunday Supper. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream for bringing together people of different backgrounds in order to foster unity within communities, Sunday Suppers are a chance for people to come together and share a meal while discussing issues within their community.
Hosting these events is not very difficult. You or your organization will need to advertise your event and plan a discussion. If you are looking for funds, you could ask guests for donations, speak with local businesses such as grocery stores about donating food, or make the Sunday Supper simpler by simply having light refreshments and snacks. You might also want to use this event to collect material or monetary donations for your topic of discussion. For example, if you plan to discuss hunger, then ask guests to bring canned food donations.
Alternatively, you could incorporate a plan of action into your discussion. After discussing the important facts and causes of an issue, you could move the discussion into possible solutions and come up with a service project at a future date. Another option might be to plan a service project directly after the discussion.
When I was involved in hosting Sunday Suppers in the past, the program encouraged organizers to begin the meal with a film or documentary related to an issue and then end with a discussion about the issue afterwards. We hosted a Sunday Supper about health and obesity by showing the film The Weight of the Nation and a second event about violence featuring The Interrupters.
This year, documentaries about social issues are not available on the American Sunday Suppers event page, so getting appropriate films and the permission to show them may be more difficult. However, this shows how the idea of the Sunday Supper is versatile and adaptable. A Sunday Supper does not have to take place on Sunday nor does it have to be in the evening, but it is a chance to make the MLK weekend a dialogue about pressing issues in our community.
I hope that you will find some way to spend your MLK Day off by serving others. Volunteering is a special way to honour Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy by continuing a tradition of service, as well as a way of honouring your community by giving back to those in need. Search for local MLK Day of Service events here on NobleHour and use the comments section to share how you plan to serve.