The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

Today, January 17, our nation celebrates civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The often-neglected full title for the holiday, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, offers important direction to us about how to celebrate and mark the occasion. The true meaning of the holiday shouldn’t pass us by.

In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” Each year, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service invites us to answer that question for ourselves. If you are already active in your community, or if you have been previously, this is a great time to examine your existing practices and decide if there are changes to your community engagement routine that could bring you more joy and better serve your community. If you have never quite managed to get into the swing of community engagement, this is the perfect time to start. Below are some ideas for embracing your community on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service:

Find a Volunteer Opportunity: 

At its heart, this day of service is about stepping up to participate in improving our communities. There are countless ways to do this, and there is a chance for everyone to get involved. In-person and remote volunteer opportunities are in full swing, and all that’s left is for you to find the right match. Here are some factors to consider:

  • What are you passionate about? Finding a volunteer opportunity that is near and dear to your heart will provide you with the most fulfilling experience, and the experience you are most likely to return to.
  • Online or in-person? Is it safe and practical for you to volunteer in person? Do you have the technological infrastructure necessary to engage in digital volunteer opportunities? 
  • Do you have special skills that may be of particular use? Offering niche skills to nonprofits that may otherwise struggle to afford them can be a high-impact way to volunteer. Similarly, if you are successful in your field, mentoring a young, disadvantaged person may be a great option. 
  • How much good can you do? If you are engaging in a new volunteer opportunity that you intend to engage in only once, try to choose a task that you can pick up quickly. You don’t want an organization spending more time training you than you give back. This is less of a concern for a volunteer opportunity you intend to sustain. 
  • Who can you bring? Volunteering is a great way to inspire and build community engagement. In appropriate volunteer settings, children can thrive, learn, and grow. Don’t miss this opportunity to make volunteering a family and friends event. 

If you don’t already have an organization in mind, search volunteer opportunities on Charity Navigator with these criteria in mind to find your match. 

Support Community Leaders: 

There are people working tirelessly in your community and across the country to be the change that they want to see in the world. Your support can help them advance their work. If volunteering isn’t a good option for you, or you want to give money in addition to volunteering, use resources like this Black-Founded Nonprofits list to guide your giving toward organizations making a difference. 

Embrace the Movement: 

The civil rights movement demonstrated the incredible power of collective action. You have networks online and in-person that you can tap to find like-minded individuals who want to make a difference with you. Call on your family, friends, and peers to step on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and beyond to build a better future. 

Commit to Service: 

However you choose to engage on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, consider it a starting point rather than a completed task. If you identified a new volunteer opportunity or organization to support, or if you used this opportunity to re-engage with a familiar nonprofit, carry that momentum forward. Book a regular volunteer slot or schedule a recurring donation to support an organization on an ongoing basis. Plan to participate in marches, rallies, petitions, and other engagement opportunities down the road. 

There is considerable work to be done, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is the perfect time to get started – or restarted – and engage joyfully and meaningfully in your community. 

About the author: Clarissa Coburn is a Charity Navigator contributor.