“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where the color of their skin will not judge them, but by the content of their character.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is dedicated to honoring the incredible leader and American civil rights advocate who spent his life campaigning for equality for people of all colors.
Aside from the extra day off school and work, what does Martin Luther King Jr. Day stand for, and why should we all take a moment to pay our respects and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.?
Below, we cover the history of the day and its importance, and offer a few resources to explore this special day – today and throughout the year.
When is Martin Luther King Jr. Day?
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January each year. It’s held on this day as it’s close to Dr. King’s birthday on the 15th of January. In 2023, the day will be acknowledged on the 16th of January.
According to the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Civil Rights, the day should be viewed as “a day on, not a day off” and is the only federal holiday designated a national day of service by Congress.
Why Do We Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
Dr. King lived and led by example – writing, speaking, and marching to raise awareness, educate and advocate for the rights of all. He stood up for what he believed in and spoke out against the unfairness, inequality, and racism he saw in his communities.
We celebrate MLK Day in honor of action, speaking up, and helping each other – just as Dr. King did.
As a day of service, we are all encouraged to think about how we can be more active participants in our communities. It’s a time to reflect on what actions we can take to address social problems, bridge barriers, and keep up the momentum of Dr. King’s vision of equality for all.
Why Martin Luther King Day Jr. is Still So Relevant
In recent years, Dr. King’s teachings have become even more relevant. In the 1960s, when Dr. King led his civil rights movement, he wanted to raise awareness of the covert and overt structures and barriers across all parts of society, preventing people from succeeding and securing the support they need.
The Black Lives Matter movement and high-profile deaths of civilians at the hands of police, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, have resonated with millions across the globe as they highlight just how much there is still to be done to create the just, fair and equal societies we all want to be a part of.
MLK Day is an excellent opportunity to have conversations about this in our classrooms and workplaces to uncover new ways we can work together to keep bringing Dr. King’s vision to reality.
How to Honor MLK Day This Year
There are many ways to live in service, raise your awareness and educate yourselves and others this MLK Day.
Below we’ve compiled a few of our favorite resources to help get you started – are there any others you’d add (let us know in the comments!).
Books & Resources to Read
There are LOTS of articles online and books you’ll be able to find in your local library all about Dr. King, his work, and what his civil rights movement created within our communities.
Here are a few of our favs:
- King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
- The King Philosophy and Beloved Community
- The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.: A Biography Book for New Readers by Christine Platt
- I Have a Dream by Martin Luther Dr. King Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
- Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
- Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior by Ed Clayton
- Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
- Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
Movies & Shows to Watch
Many movies are TV shows have sought to tackle and highlight the systemic ways racism has shown up – both during Dr. King’s time and in the present day.
Movies are a great way to learn about new perspectives and ideas and can be a doorway to learning more about the people and events they portray.
Why not get your friends and/or family together this MLK Day, watch one of the following and reflect on your thoughts about it together?
- Our Friend, Martin
- Ruby Bridges
- Selma, Lord, Selma
- Hidden Figures
- An American Girl Story—Melody 1963: Love Has to Win
Spend the Day ‘On’
Take the opportunity to spend the day as it is intended – in service to those in your community. There are so many great ways to get involved and show your support.
Here are a few to help you get started:
- Donate to or volunteer with food banks: Visit Feeding America or Food Pantries to find an organization near you.
- Deliver groceries to vulnerable community members: Help out someone you know or contact your local Meals on Wheels to learn ways to volunteer.
- Volunteer for a good cause: Check out our blog on volunteering to learn more and resources to find volunteering opportunities.
- Host a movie screening and discussion: Why not hold a movie screening in your home, school, or community center? Invite others, share some popcorn and honor Dr. King as a community.
Celebrate MLK Day Together
During the civil rights movement, an entire generation learned the importance of education for eradicating systemic racism. The lessons and teachings of Dr. King are just as important today as they were 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and 50 years ago.
We all have a role to play, and if there’s one thing Dr. King showed us, it’s that we can all have a voice, and when we stand up for what’s right together, we’re much stronger than we realize.
How will you honor Dr. King this year?