The general consensus is that on the day that we honor the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., revelers are supposed to do something, in the words of the Rev. Al Sharpton, “King-like”—something that honors his memory and his dream of equality. Others have proclaimed that MLK day should be a “day of service”—a day dedicated to performing tasks that help others, since Dr. King worked tirelessly to lead an effort designed to make life better for others.
Here is a list of King-like activities that will remind you of his accomplishments and guide you towards improving life for yourself and others.
Attend an event designed around celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King. Public memorials are being held throughout the country that are designed to celebrate, and encourage reflection about, Dr. King’s legacy. From the re-enactments of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus, to the gospel concerts being sponsored by large corporations, you will not have to search hard for a program to attend. Your local church is likely to have prepared an MLK Day program.
Volunteer. One of the most popular ways to honor Dr. King’s memory is by volunteering—making the day a day of service. You might paint the walls of a public school building, or help turn a building into an affordable housing unit. Click here to learn about ways you can make a difference in your community.
Go to a museum. Many museums are honoring the accomplishments of Dr. King and other notable figures of African descent through exhibitions that feature information about the impact of their work.
Watch media presentations that are reflective of Dr. King’s life, his dream and the Civil Rights Movement. It is tempting to relax in front of the television on any day off from school or work. Turn this habit into a teachable moment on Monday, January 16th, by watching television that features information about Dr. King and other Civil Rights activists. Check your local listings for movies, documentaries, and other presentations about Dr. King’s life and the Civil Rights Movement.
Read. One of the most important gains of the Civil Rights Movement was that concerning the advancement of education. Dr. King, and others, intended for everyone to have the opportunity to be educated and to have access to resources that enhance education. Adults should encourage children to read for at least one un-interrupted hour on MLK day—and every day. You may also honor your access to education by learning about lesser-known notable activists like Fred Shuttlesworth, David Walker, and Moriah Stewart (also called Maria Stewart).
Take advantage of the opportunities Dr. King and other Civil Rights Movement activists strove for. What about finishing that thesis that is two (or more) semesters overdue? What about writing that personal statement for college or graduate school that you’ve been putting off? If Dr. King were alive, he would be proud of you for taking advantage of the educational opportunities he and his comrades fought and died for. What about those articles you have been intending to write? What about that research you have been planning to start? What about that business plan you have until now, only been thinking about writing? During the Jim Crow Era, many Black-owned businesses were bombed just for existing. And what about that not-for-profit organization for which you have been “meaning” to complete the paperwork? Get moving on ideas that will further Dr. King’s legacy, and that will enhance the quality of life for all.
Act against inequality. Perhaps the best way to honor Dr. King’s dream of equality on an everyday basis, is by speaking out against micro aggressions that perpetuate inequality, even if you benefit from the unequal action. When you are given preferential treatment because of your skin color, or the perception someone has of you, refuse the special treatment. For instance, suppose you arrive after a customer that has already been waiting to be served. The person that has already been waiting is the member of a minority group. You are not. The service provider approaches you first for service even though they saw you arrive after the “minor” person. You should say: “This person was here before me.” This teaches the service provider that unfair treatment is unacceptable. It affirms to the member of the minority group that she or he is valuable, and that others will perceive him or her as such.
Reflect on your feelings about race. Peggy McIntosh's work, “Unpacking White Privilege” deserves consideration. Are you realistic about, and appreciative of, the ways in which your existence and experiences may be different than others’? How would you feel about having a boss that was the member of a race that is different than your own? What if the neighborhood you live in were predominated by a race or ethnic group that is different than your own? What are your feelings about immigration? Do you secretly fear that people of color will eventually outnumber others? Do you buy into the idea that if someone wins, someone has to lose—or that in order for there to be rich people, there have to be poor people? Are there any alternatives? Can everybody win? The answers to these questions do not have to be revealed to anyone other than yourself. Do your answers to these questions impact how you interact with members of racial or ethnic groups that are different than your own?
Dr. King’s dream was that we would all have the opportunity to win—and that if need be, we would help each other to win. Reflect on your idea of winning and whether or not it is at the expense of others.