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United Way Blog

On MLK Day, Volunteer for Justice in Your Community, and Everywhere


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

                                                                                -- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1963)

The racial inequity, racial injustice and resulting poverty that Dr. Martin Luther King worked to eradicate more than a half century ago still fuel national instability and desperation. They are the unraveling threads in the “single garment of destiny” he wrote about in his letter from a Birmingham jail. Each of us suffers from these injustices.

But there is hope. Community engagement – in the form of peaceful protests, advocating, voting, and volunteering – reweaves our social fabric. When we work together, especially when we volunteer for the greater good, we can build resilient, equitable, and sustainable communities.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service celebrates the civil rights leader’s life and legacy through such service. Observed each year as “a day on, not a day off,” MLK Day is one of only two federal holidays designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. This year, United Way is partnering with the Presidential Inaugural Committee to celebrate and promote volunteer activities across the country.

With literacy and a good education as the cornerstone to a good life, many of the volunteer events promote reading and access to books. In Winston-Salem, NC, United Way of Forsyth County will help get young students excited about reading through a Virtual Storytelling Week. United Way leaders will record videos of themselves reading age-appropriate books (with permission from Scholastic) that promote diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, YMCA, and other partners will promote the videos to the children they serve, which will be released throughout the week via YouTube and Facebook watch parties.

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh also has created meaningful opportunities for families to participate in the MLK Day of Service. United Way’s virtual “Book Drive for Diversity” will put books championing people of all abilities, gender, race, ethnicity, and economic status into the hands of eager young readers. Families also can join virtual forums to learn how to engage in discussions about social justice, learn practical skills – including using social media to foment social change – and encourage a more inclusive culture.

United Way of the Lakeshore in Muskegon, Michigan, is offering the 5-Day Equity Challenge, an interactive digital resource to deepen understanding and willingness to confront racism. United Way of the Lakeshore also is engaging senior volunteers to pack Senior Care Packages which will be distributed to Meals on Wheels participants and is leading drives to collect and sort coats, hats, and food for people in need.

Volunteers participating in MLK Day activities know that we all have a stake in what happens to others. Dr. King also wrote, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Creating a more just and fair society goes beyond short-term charity for a few, but volunteering is the first step toward a more just and equitable world. If you share that dream, please contact your local United Way to explore how you can serve.