On the third Monday in January, many of us get excited for a “day off,” especially after the high of the holidays and the new year has worn off. This special day is Martin Luther King Jr. Day—a day to honor a man who was a true leader and visionary in civil rights and racial equality in the U.S.
Even though this day is often celebrated with time off from work, it’s actually a great opportunity to have a “day on” for service. In 1994, Congress deemed MLK Day a National Day of Service. Looking at this holiday as an opportunity to give back and take part in supporting civil rights is a truly wonderful way to keep MLK’s legacy of fighting injustice alive.
Use this day as a meaningful marker for the year ahead—a reminder to take action and help others, even when our own daily to-do lists seem never-ending. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Even by taking one small step, you can have an important impact.
Here are six actions you can take in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day:
Sign a petition
There are millions of different petitions on MoveOn.org, a site that helps people campaign and gather support for civil rights and justice issues. Go to the petitions page, and browse to find a cause you care about—then sign your name and share it with your social media network. I’ve signed many petitions on this site (and will definitely be browsing on MLK day!), mostly in support of women’s and children’s rights, as well as advocacy for immigrants. Don’t see a cause you want to support? You can start your own petition on the site too!
Petitions with a large number of signatures (think hundreds of thousands) help transform the national conversation around certain issues. Even though it may feel like your one signature might not be doing much, collectively, this form of digital organizing brings issues that are important to everyday people to the surface so they can be addressed by the powers that be.
Watch Dr. King’s speeches on YouTube
Throughout his lifetime, MLK Jr. delivered numerous powerful speeches, many of which continue to be quoted over and over again today! Start with the full version of his “I Have A Dream” speech, and then “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” before making your way down this playlist of his greatest speeches. His passion, charisma, and vision for a better world are palpable—and will leave you wanting to do your part, too.
Volunteer with a local organization
Find a day in January when you’re able to volunteer at a local civil rights organization. This month, I’ll be working to support The Nora Sandigo Children Foundation, which was started by Nora Sandigo, who has personally accepted guardianship for over 1,200 immigrant children, helping to keep families together while their parents’ citizenship issues are sorted.
You can find an organization near you by browsing this list, checking out VolunteerMatch, or even visiting your local food pantry. By researching and finding an opportunity to get involved, the experience of volunteering will be meaningful both for you and the people you’re advocating for.
Start a conversation with friends and neighbors
Now, more than ever, we often want to avoid tough conversations with the people in our community, especially if they relate to politics. It’s important to remember that civil rights are about equality for all—and therefore, are worth talking about, even if the conversation may be uncomfortable at first. Talk with your friends, neighbors and even family members about tolerance and acceptance—and how you can each play a more active role in supporting civil rights in your community. I do this by trying to offer ways to be a part of the solution. For instance, I’ll tell people about this great new organization I found that’s helping the children of immigrants. This opens the conversation on a positive note and leaves room for an honest discussion.
Join Campaign Zero
A major focus of Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocacy was on equal rights for African Americans. His work made great progress, but there’s always more to be done. Data shows that black people are more likely to be arrested for drugs, more likely to spend time in prison, and even worse, more likely to be fatally shot by police. Visit Campaign Zero to see how you can help promote police reform in your state.
Watch a movie on social injustice
Educating yourself is one of the best ways to become an ally for civil rights issues—and sometimes, a good film is the best way to do that. Next time you sit down to a movie, consider watching something that spotlights social injustice. Some of my favorites that you can watch on Netflix right now are 13th, The True Cost, and Out of Many, One. Watching these documentaries will open your eyes to some of the injustices and violations of civil rights that are happening in our country (and around the world). Knowledge truly is power, and the more we understand social justice issues, the better we’re able to be an advocate for change.