by Nsenga K. Burton
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday is in honor of one of the most revered figures in world history. Dr. King fought for equality and social justice through peaceful and effective means. He is quite possibly the greatest change agent of the 20th Century, helping to put into motion a civil rights movement that would ultimately change the culture of the United States and the opportunities for many groups in addition to African-Americans. Many take this hard fought holiday as an opportunity to rest. At The Burton Wire, we believe that Dr. King would want us to be actively serving the communities, not using the day as a three-day weekend for frivolous pursuits which is often the case. In the spirit of Dr. King’s legacy, The Burton Wire brings you five ways to celebrate Dr. King during the observance of the national holiday. Some of them can be done at home; others can be done outside of the home. Whatever you do, do something because that is why we honor and revere Dr. King — because he got things done that helped change the world for the better.
1. Dr. King was not only an agent of change, but he was also a promoter of peace. On MLK Day, promote peace in your household. Commit to communicating with love, kindness and affection in voice and deed. Meditate on peaceful thoughts; share peaceful words written by yourself or a poet or author with your friends and loved ones. Do something nice and unexpected for a member of your household that will promote peace in the household. It doesn’t have to be deep. If you never wash dishes, then perhaps offer to wash dishes and do a good a job at it! If there is something that you’ve been promising to do for someone in the household (change a light bulb, put together a shelf, take him out for ice cream) and haven’t done it, then do it. If you’ve been arguing with your spouse, significant other or children, commit to only speak with loving words. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it promotes peace and harmony in the household.
2. Canvas your home and find things in good use that you no longer use that would be of benefit to someone else and donate those items. Tackle your closet and clean out the gently used items or items with tags that you know you’re never going to wear and take them to Goodwill. Churches, temples, and crisis assistance organizations often accept clothing, toiletries, and even appliances and furniture. Some organizations will pick up donated items. If you’ve already canvassed your home and have a pile of items you’ve been meaning to donate, then commit to doing it. Find a drop-off center (make sure it is non-profit and connected to an actual non-profit) and give to someone who will absolutely need clothing, toiletries, etc., particularly in this economy.
3. Volunteer at a MLK Day event. It’s never too late to offer your services as a volunteer at church, community centers, soup kitchens or museums. Some places have required training and clearances for volunteers (schools), but others do not. Find out what events are happening near you and volunteer to hand out programs, set-up, break-down or clean-up or to help the sponsoring organization with what they need covered, whether it’s (wo)manning a table or being on-call to run errands for unforeseen needs.
4. Attend an MLK Day event or host one at your home. If people are going to be at your home, then why not schedule part of the day for remembering Dr. King. Perhaps people will share personal stories of how Dr. King’s life or works inspired them? Maybe you can come together and read “Letters from Birmingham” and discuss what those words mean today? If you can, attend one of your locally produced MLK Day events. Many organizations (churches, Black Greek-Lettered organizations, lodges, Links, local Urban League affiliates, colleges and universities) are hosting MLK Day events (plays, spiritual services, community service events). Use Google for “good” and find out what’s happening in your area. If you live in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) region, head to the King memorial on the mall or watch the Inaugural Day parade in honor of Dr. King. If you can’t make it to the inauguration, make sure that folks watch it at home with the same interest and vigor as the AFC and NFC NFL championships. While you’re watching, discuss how Dr. King’s legacy impacted the re-election of the nation’s first African-American President.
5. Go for a long walk. While you may not be able to retrace the March on Washington, you can symbolically honor this life-changing event by taking a long walk as a family. Revisit the history of the March which was a collaboration between the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the National Urban League. Learn more about these organizations — who they were then and who they are now — and why they still matter today. Think about the distance that 250,000 people walked for freedom and jobs. Think about the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the lesser known but as powerful speech delivered by John Lewis of SNCC. Lewis declared that they (SNCC) would march “through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did” and “burn Jim Crow to the ground—nonviolently.” Since many people have iPods and smartphones, listen to these speeches while walking. These excellent speeches might inspire you to become a change agent or to remember why you’re able to make this walk freely.
How will you be celebrating MLK Day? Let us know in the comments section.