Utter the name “Martin Luther King” and many of us immediately think of his oratory skills and his powerful and inspiring speeches, like during the March on Washington when he spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.” Also memorably, Dr. King made it clear that he wanted us to channel that urgency toward advancing the common good, saying, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’”
As we celebrate his life and leadership on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, United Way asks Americans to remember not only Dr. King’s words, but also his bravery and belief that each of us must find a way to serve. Even during a pandemic.
United Ways across the country provide opportunities to reflect on Dr. King’s ideals and give back – virtually – on the MLK Day holiday and throughout the year. For example, United Way of King County (Seattle, WA) is offering multiple experiences to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward. On January 17th, volunteers can choose from an array of activities and the next day, join a virtual session to learn about the mission and needs of BIPOC-led organizations and how they can commit to mentoring or tutoring youth. On the 19th, United Way is hosting a virtual conversation about racial equity with Clint Smith, the author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, one of The New York Times Best Books of 2021.
During a week of service, United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut (Hartford) will lead volunteers virtually in building literacy kits that include: a children’s book about Martin Luther King, Jr., a craft or activity created by volunteers to pair with the book, an encouraging note, and additional resources around literacy. The books and interactive reading props will be distributed to local schools that work with United Way to ensure children are reading at grade-level by the fourth grade.
United Way of Frederick County (Frederick, MD) will also host a virtual event, with about 100 volunteers creating tote bags, pillows or blankets to be distributed throughout the region. United Way is partnering with Frostburg State University‘s ASTAR AmeriCorps program, 211 Maryland, the County Human Relations Department/Commission and other community sponsors. Volunteers will pick up kits and then complete them together online, with the opportunity to share feelings and thoughts about Dr. King and service.
Observed each year on the third Monday in January, MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. The global pandemic and events of 2020 and 2021 have opened our eyes wider to inequities. Now more than ever, we must act with the “fierce urgency of now” – through volunteering and other community engagement – to deliver on the promise of Dr. King’s example and mission.