On Monday, January 18, 2021 we as a nation honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a Baptist minister and prominent leader of the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. His leadership contributed to the end of legal segregation of African Americans in the South and other parts of the country, and he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. 

Brief History of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Very soon after Dr. King’s assassination, there were calls for a national holiday to honor his life. In the early 1970s, several states and cities made his birthday a holiday – January 15th. After years of pushback at the national level, it wasn’t until 1983 that legislation passed to officially make the third Monday in January a federal holiday. 

Why is MLK Day a day of service?

Dr. King famously said, “Everyone can be great because everybody can serve.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Day not only honors Dr. King’s life but encourages us to continue his work. MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. As AmeriCorps says, “Make it a day on, not a day off.” In moments like we’re experiencing now when health disparities among communities of color are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, community service is extremely important. If you’re able, commit to making your community a better place. Look out for your neighbors in need. Not only are you making a lasting impact, but volunteering is an effective way to support your mental health. It can counter feelings of stress, anger, and anxiety (more on the benefits of volunteering).

Volunteering during the pandemic

Even though the pandemic has created roadblocks for typical volunteer activities, you can still virtually volunteer. Share your time over video call with organizations and people in need. If you can volunteer in person, consider reaching out to a local food pantry or joining a community project like a park clean-up.

Find volunteer opportunities near you.


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