How to spend your Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

This Monday, January 18th, making it a day on (not a day off), can be easy and—gosh darn it—it can be fun, too. Kelly Gerow has all sorts of serviceable suggestions.

Photo by: Daquella manera

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the only federal holiday that is considered a day of service, and the only one with a motto–“A Day On, Not A Day Off.” This weekend’s events around Richmond provide opportunities to give back to the community, reflect on King’s legacy, and reopen a dialogue about how present day events relate to the Civil Rights Movement in King’s time.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1983 to honor the late civil rights leader, and Congress appointed MLK Day as a day of service in 1994. The Corporation for National and Community Service is the official caretaker of MLK Day, during which “Americans of every age and background celebrate Dr. King through service projects that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.”

If you’re wondering why you’ve heard about MLK Day more in recent years, it might be because President and Mrs. Obama reintroduced the purpose of the day through the President’s United We Serve initiative to promote volunteering.

HandsOn Greater Richmond, which connects individuals with volunteer opportunities, has been coordinating events for MLK Day for years–it’s one of their biggest events of the year1. Registration is open, but spots are limited for events, which include crafting at Maymont, visiting with senior citizens, yard and park clean up and maintenance, and a DIY project to make and distribute seed bombs of native wildflowers throughout the James River Park System.

HandsOn is also co-hosting a free screening of the 2014 film Selma with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, and University of Richmond’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement on Sunday, January 17th at 3:00 PM at the Byrd Theatre. The movie focuses on the role of King and others in the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama that eventually led to the Voting Rights Act becoming a law in 1965.

A Q&A will follow the film, along with a discussion on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in Richmond. Scheduled to participate are Thad Williamson and Evette Roots from Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, Oliver Hill, Jr., PhD (Virginia State University professor and son of Civil Rights attorney Oliver Hill), and Renee Hill, PhD (Associate Professor at VSU). A discussion guide will be given to attendees and includes questions such as, “What was a time that you stood up to injustice? How did it feel? Was it successful?” Advance registration is requested.

This event is being held on a Sunday as a nod to the national volunteer network Points of Light‘s Sunday Suppers, which encourages people from diverse backgrounds to gather and discuss issues over a meal. Hosting a Sunday Supper is one of the five ways that Points of Light recommends people serve on MLK Day, along with volunteering, and teaching your children how to serve the community.

In addition to sponsoring events, classes have been canceled at the University of Richmond for students, staff, and faculty to observe MLK Day. A full schedule of UR’s own programming can be found here, and includes volunteer work, learning about local history, and a family celebration to engage children in civil rights history. Virginia Commonwealth University will have an entire MLK Celebration Week to encourage community engagement and service.

Volunteers are encouraged to share how they’re serving and why on social media using #MLKDayRVA. If you’re not able to attend a community event on MLK Day, or if you want to turn your “day on” into “many days on,” both HandsOn Greater Richmond and Points of Light have ongoing volunteer events. Check out HandsOn Greater Richmond’s Pinterest for ideas on how to volunteer with children.

  1. The organization’s biggest volunteer event is HandsOn Day, which is October 15th, 2016. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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