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Background on MLK Day of Service

In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off from work or school, Congress asked all Americans to celebrate Dr. King's legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action.

  • Brings together people of different backgrounds
  • Breaks down barriers
  • Leads to better understanding and ongoing relationships between individuals and within communities
  • Attracts new volunteers for your ongoing work

Participation in the MLK Day of Service has grown steadily, with hundreds of thousands of Americans …

  • Engaging in projects such as tutoring and mentoring children
  • Painting schools and senior centers
  • Delivering meals
  • Building homes
  • Reflecting on Dr. King's life and teachings

Many of the projects started on MLK Day of Service continue to engage volunteers beyond the holiday and impact the community year-round.

The scope of the event grows every year, however many people still are not aware of the service component of the holiday. By encouraging the participation of as many organizations as possible, we hope to make next year's MLK Day of Service the biggest and best ever, engaging more people in service that honors Dr. King's life and teachings.

Responses to FAQs about the King Holiday of Service

Why should communities celebrate Dr. King’s birthday as a day on and a day of service?

Consider Dr. King’s words about how he wanted to be remembered:

“I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”

Mrs. Coretta Scott King had this to say about the King Holiday:

“We call you to commemorate this Holiday by making your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength, and which empowered all of the great victories of his leadership. And with our hearts open to this spirit of unconditional love, we can indeed achieve the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.

May we who follow Martin now pledge to serve humanity, promote his teachings and carry forward his legacy into the 21st Century.”

The King Holiday of Service commemorates the life and work of Dr. King as a person who served humanity by continuing his commitment to service. Dr. King said,

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

Why is the King Holiday for me?

MLK Day of Service is for everyone who believes in improving communities and the lives of citizens because that was the focus of Dr. King’s life. Most people immediately think of Dr. King in the context of the civil rights movement. In addition, he worked to address what he called the triple evils of …

  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • War

He said these evils existed in a vicious cycle and stand as barriers to living in the Beloved Community. These issues are still affecting many communities especially in today’s tough economic times. The issue of poverty is particularly relevant as an increasing number of families are in jeopardy of losing their jobs and homes. Such losses create a need for on-going services that may be highlighted through MLK Day of Service activities.

Dr. King dreamed that communities could come together across the barriers that often divide us and work together for the betterment of everyone within the community. This is also consistent with the work of Cesar Chavez and Mahatma Gandhi and should be viewed as complementary to the days that honor these advocates of non-violence and human rights.

What are the benefits to participating in the MLK Day of Service for an organization, or a Senior Corps project?

The MLK Day of Service provides benefits such as …

  • Public Awareness
    The media is often looking for stories related to Dr. King. On the King Holiday, organizing service activities, particularly if done in collaboration with others in the community, is a great way for organizations to gain attention for and promote the valuable work of its programs.
  • Volunteer Recruitment and Retention
    It has been demonstrated that people who volunteer with a community organization on the King Holiday are likely to continue doing so. In this way, hosting service activities on the holiday helps to generate new volunteers and keeps them coming back as they become more aware of the hosting organization’s community work and need for assistance.
  • Partnership Development
    The MLK Day of Service provides the impetus for community service organizations to partner with:
    • Faith-based institutions
    • Public schools
    • Colleges and universities
    • Businesses
    • Others

The King Holiday may be the catalyst for creating partnerships that previously seemed unattainable. Working together on the initiative may create lasting partnerships that will benefit all parties for years to come.

What unique contributions can Senior Corps volunteers make to the MLK Day of Service?

Dr. King was assassinated over 40 years ago. Because Senior Corps volunteers are typically over the age of 55, many of them have personal memories of Dr. King and his work. By sharing their first-hand memories with younger volunteers, they can help others to appreciate Dr. King as a real man who accomplished a great deal, rather than a larger-than-life legend. This can help others understand that they too can make a real difference through their own service.

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