Volunteer, Learn, and Grow on MLK Day

AKGladney
Occasional Contributor

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This Monday, January 18, we will celebrate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, as well as his many contributions to the civil rights movement and society as a whole. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and equal rights activist who played a key role in the American civil rights movement until his assassination in 1968. The driving force behind historic events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King fought for equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged, and all victims of injustice.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was so much more than a man giving the influential "I Have a Dream" speech. To properly celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, we encourage you to learn more about his life and to use your day off to find new opportunities to volunteer, learn and grow. Below is a list of resources and suggestions on how to participate.

Books to Read by Age

Preschool students:

  • The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Johnny Ray Moore is a great read. This short 200-word board book explains how Martin Luther King Jr. helped end segregation in America. The book has watercolor illustrations and is an easy introduction to one of the most influential figures in black history.

Elementary school students:

  • Martin’s Dream by Jane Kurtz has simple text and engaging illustrations. It's a perfect picture book biography about Dr. King with a timeline of important dates. This can be read by the student but also can be a great read-aloud book for non-readers.
  • My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr. through a dream. The dream discusses the history of Martin Luther King Jr, including scenes of protests and segregation.

Middle school students:

  • Martin Luther King Jr.: A Graphic History of America’s Great Civil Rights Leaders by Rachel Ruiz is a graphic novel that will engage any reader. The book details Dr. King's life from childhood to his role in the civil rights movement.
  • Memphis, Martin, and Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan presents the historic events surrounding a 1968 two-month strike by sanitation works after the death of two colleagues caused by unsafe equipmentall from the perspective of a nine-year-old, whose father participated in the protest. The strike in Memphis became Martin Luther King's final stand for justice. The day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in his hotel. The book combines prose and poetry. 

High school students:

  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone discusses the difficult topic of police conduct. In this book, a student at the top of his class has a rough and unfair encounter with the police. In an attempt to make sense of the incident, he writes a journal to Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr by Martin Luther King Jr., edited by scholar Clayborne Carson after Dr. King's death in 1968, pulls together Dr. King's speeches and writings into an autobiographical book.

Adults:

  • Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. King lays out his dreams and plans for a better America. He discusses the need for higher wages, better jobs, quality education, and decent housing. He wrote this first manuscript in 1967, presenting a universal message of hope that has continued to resonate until today.
  • A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. brings together a collection of Dr. King's speeches, writings, speeches, autobiographical reflections, and interviews, highlighting his thoughts on black nationalism, love and hope, social policy, and more.

Videos to Watch

  • "King in the Wilderness" – This documentary is available on HBO Now, Hulu, Prime Video, YouTube, and Google Play.
  • "I Am MLK Jr." – This documentary is available to rent on Prime Video and iTunes.
  • "Selma" – This historical drama is available to rent on Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, and Google Play.
  • Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech

Ways to Volunteer

Opportunities for in-person volunteering may be limited due to the pandemic, but if you are comfortable, try reaching out to a local place of worship or food bank to inquire about where you can be a source of service. Even something as simple as reading to a group of children at a local school can be extremely impactful. If you are unable to do in-person volunteering, you can find a growing number of virtual volunteer opportunities on sites such as VolunteerMatch.org.

Sunday Supper

Host an online Sunday Supper, which is inspired by Dr. King’s vision that people of diverse backgrounds can come together to talk about current injustices and create a plan for action. Video chat with people to engage in dialogue about issues affecting their communities. Conversations about pressing topics are important because they are often the starting point for change. Take time after the call to examine how your group can bring real change to further Dr. King’s vision.

Remember, these resources are meant to inspire you to channel Dr. King’s tenacity, passion, and love of people into your daily lives. Again, we encourage you to begin this journey by turning your day off into a "day on" involving intentional action. It is up to us to not only commemorate Dr. King’s contributions but to ensure that his legacy and work lives on.