MLK Day of Service is a national day of service that focuses on human rights, racial equity and civic engagement. The third Monday in January is dedicated to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and with it come many opportunities to get involved and make an impact.
Points of Light’s Civic Circle® is a framework to help you realize all the ways you can lead, lend support and take action. Often, people think that civic engagement needs to look one specific way – when the truth is that there are multiple ways to get involved, no matter where you are or how much time you have.
This year, mark your calendar for Jan. 15 and make a plan to get involved.
Ways to Live out MLK’s Legacy
Make MLK Day “a Day On, not a Day Off” by finding a volunteer opportunity. Volunteering is always needed, but on dedicated days like MLK Day, there are typically additional opportunities available. Community centers, schools, places of worship, food pantries and shelters near you may be hosting extra projects. You can search Points of Light’s Engage to find virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities, or find a Points of Light Global Network affiliate near you to partner with.
Listen and Learn
A big part of advocating for civil and human rights is listening and learning. When we hear from others about their perspectives and the life experiences that have shaped their identities, we can better honor who they are and where they come from. Plus, we have the opportunity to expand our own perspectives. You can also learn how to support and advocate for people of color through Points of Light’s Listen. Learn. Act to End Racism initiative, in partnership with Morehouse College.
Dr. King knew how critical it was for every citizen in the U.S. to have their voice heard through voting, coining the phrase “Give Us the Ballot” in his 1957 speech. The United States national elections will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024, but that doesn’t mean it’s too soon to get involved. Voting is a crucial part of driving change at the systemic level. Start by making sure you’re registered to vote, then educate yourself on the issues and the people on this year’s ballot. You may also dedicate time to protecting democracy by advocating for voting rights for all Americans. Then, don’t forget to mark your calendar to ensure you’re ready to vote in November.
Using your purchase power is one way to support communities – like BIPOC business owners – or causes you care about. By doing your homework, you can find out which brands that you might buy from regularly are supporting communities of color and advocating for human rights. This may be reflected in their donations, certain projects or campaigns they lead, how they lift up their BIPOC employees and more. Research before you buy, so you can ensure your hard-earned money is going toward the causes you care about.
You might find ways to champion human and civil rights through your work, even if your job isn’t directly related to these missions. For example, you could organize a group of coworkers who are interested in volunteering on MLK Days. Or you might do a project featuring the voices of those who have faced discrimination in the community and screen it after work or on a lunch break to help educate and start a conversation within your workplace. If you don’t receive MLK Day off from work, you can also advocate with your employer to make this a day of service for employees.
Dr. King was a powerful voice in the Black community and used his influence to organize rallies and protests, petition for change and speak with public officials when he could. You can use your voice to advocate for change in your own spheres of influence. This can start around the dinner table, presenting a topic you’re passionate about and leaving space for respectful debate and sharing perspectives. You might find a specific issue you want to champion and create an online petition for it. Or maybe you join an organized rally to make your voice heard. There are plenty of ways to use your words to communicate what you care about and pave the way for change.
If you want to use your resources to advocate for human and civil rights, you can also donate to a cause or organization. By donating financially, you can let an organization allocate funds where they’re most needed. But even donating goods like breakfast foods, baby products, old cell phones and new or gently used books can greatly impact an individual or group of people who may not have access to these items. Just check with the organization you’re donating to first, to ensure that you’re contributing items they need and can use.
If you want to follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps in dedicating your life to championing human and civil rights, you might consider making a vocation out of it. Through a public service position, you can create a ripple effect of change on your school board, in your local government or even internationally.
If you’re interested in devoting your work to making an impact in the business or for-profit sector, you might consider social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurs find innovative solutions to the world’s toughest issues, like inequality and racism. These individuals identify a need that hasn’t yet been met by the existing traditional structures, which takes a lot of time, creativity and grit but can also be a supremely impactful career option.