MLK Day Offers Guidance in Times of Turmoil

2016 was a tumultuous year. There seemed to be more tragedies, both manmade and natural, more unrest and more division than ever before. But, through it all, most Americans remained resilient and resolved to move forward in a positive way. So, it is fitting that on January 16 together we will observe the first national holiday of 2017 as we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. On this day we honor a man who encouraged people to embrace the differences of others, to live in peace and to serve others.

Each year on the 3rd Monday in January we celebrate the federal holiday of Martin Luther King Day. But MLK Day is more than a day of remembrance, in 2004 the holiday was designated a National Day of Service. Not only do we commemorate MLK's birthday (January 15) and celebrate his life, but, all Americans are officially called to service and asked to give back in some way to the community.

We are all called to serve, but where do we start? We suggest starting at the Corporation for National and Community Service’s MLK Day of Service website at Here you can search volunteer opportunities by zip code, register your MLK Day event and find educational and promotional materials.

In addition to the traditional on-site volunteer opportunities, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Below are some ideas of how you can celebrate this day's message of civic duty and compassion.

1) Organize your workplace, school or community group. Maximize your impact by organizing a group to serve the community with an activity done at your own location in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Choose a local charity and determine the best way for your group to show support. Ideas include packing snack bags for after school programs, collecting coats and hats for a homeless shelter, planting trees, creating a mentoring program, or writing letters of support to our military abroad.

2) Teach your children. The kids are home from school. Remember, as a Day of Service MLK day is supposed to be "a day on, not a day off." Plan an activity of service and involve your children. Show by your example that volunteerism is important to your family and help to cultivate a new generation of compassionate, community- minded citizens.

3) Raise needed goods. Support a local charity with a drive for the goods they need to serve the community. An online YouGiveGoods drive is the new way to raise food and supplies for charity. You can set up your drive in a matter of minutes and have it underway in time for MLK Day this year. Then invite your online community via email and social media to support your cause by purchasing items that will ship to your selected charity. A YouGiveGoods drive builds up your community as it offers tangible aid to local charity and it provides a welcome opportunity for your friends and family to be part of this year's MLK Day.

4) Spread the message. Use social media (use hashtag #MLKDay) to share MLK's ideals and inspiring words. You will find his words to be stunningly timely and relevant in today's world. Forward this page, talk about what you will do in honor of MLK Day, and encourage your circle of friends to take action to support the community.

5) Commit to service in 2017. Use Martin Luther King’s example to plan a 2017 where you take action. If you are unable to volunteer on January 16, simply spend some time researching, choose your charity, make that phone call and find out how you can best serve them in the future. Charities need help all year long!

Can you imagine if we all resolved to live the ideals of MLK in 2017? If we stopped complaining about problems in our communities and country and took action to make things better? Small actions can build big movements. Together we can follow Martin Luther King's lead and be a powerful force of change.

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