How some US communities honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy

Volunteers across the United States honor Martin Luther King Jr. Monday with acts of service to benefit local communities. 

Charles Kelly/AP
In this April 3, 1968 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes his last public appearance at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn. The following day King was assassinated on his motel balcony. In a new memoir, "My Life with the Kings: A Reporter's Recollections of Martin, Coretta and the Civil Rights Movement," retired Associated Press reporter Kathryn Johnson describes many civil rights flashpoints that she covered in the 1960s, and details her close relationship with the movement’s leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his family.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” 

For more than 20 years, the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes volunteering, has led the MLK Day of Service as the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. Offices and schools are closed across the country Monday, but volunteers are preparing to honor the late civil rights leader through "a day on, not a day off.” 

Boston Cares, a nonprofit that seeks to support Greater Boston schools and other nonprofit agencies, asks volunteers to come together to to create Reading Success Kits for a number of local elementary schools. Each kit includes grade-specific books, literacy flashcards, and reading games. By the end of Monday, Boston Cares hopes to have 50 new bookshelves painted and at least 120 volunteer-crafted “story starter” picture books. 

In Richmond, Va., community members are invited to attend a free movie screening of "Selma" in the historical Byrd Theater. Local universities such as the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University are hosting free events for faculty, staff, students and the community including story hours on MLK’s life and history for children, and educational walking tours of Richmond.

And across the country in California, the Bay Area offers local communities a number of ways to remember MLK and serve one another. The African American Museum & Library in Oakland is hosting its 10th annual MLK Jr. Film Festival by “presenting a selection of critically acclaimed films that put into historical perspective the Civil Rights movement and its heroes.” Children and adults alike are also invited to volunteer with East Bay Regional Park District staff, contributing to park restoration and invasive plant removal. 

Only 37 percent of companies give employees a paid day off to honor MLK. This percentage may seem small, but it has been growing in recent years. In fact, after standard holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, MLK day now tops companies’ lists for paid holidays off. 

Beyond office closings, some companies organize service activities for employees in honor of MLK. Accenture in Charlotte, N.C., for example, organizes a volunteer event for employees through local Habitat for Humanity projects.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, but above all a day of service,” writes Coretta Scott King in her essay ‘The Meaning of the King Holiday,’ posted on The King Center’s website. “It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutoring those who can’t read, mentoring at-risk youngsters, consoling the broken-hearted and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.” 

As The King Center suggests, “Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible.” 

The Associated Press reports:

In the nation's capital, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama planned to take part in a community service program in King's honor. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was to be the keynote speaker at a National Action Network King Day Awards program and FBI Director James Comey planned to lead a government wreath-laying service at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington.

Elsewhere, the King Center in Atlanta was set to celebrate the holiday with a remembrance ceremony at Ebenezer Baptist Church. That commemoration caps more than a week of events meant to celebrate the slain civil rights icon's legacy under the theme: "Remember! Celebrate! Act! King's Legacy of Freedom for Our World."

"What most people around the world want, whatever nation they live in, is the freedom to participate in government, the freedom to prosper in life and the freedom to peacefully coexist," said King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King.

By visiting MLKday.gov, volunteers can search for service opportunities in their communities. 

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