On Monday, January 16, our nation will observe the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., with a federal holiday. While many will celebrate with a day off work, many others will recognize the holiday as “A Day On” and participate in a nationwide effort of service. After all, joining together in service is perhaps the best way to honor the man who once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

What Does “A Day On” Mean?

In 1994, eleven years after Dr. King’s birthday was marked a national holiday, lawmakers designated it “A Day On, Not a Day Off,” urging Americans to engage in community service for the day. Recognizing the holiday in this way meant that our nation could unite behind a common goal: what Dr. King called a “Beloved Community.” The Beloved Community is a “global vision” of people united in the spirit of cooperation, peacefulness, giving, respect, and justice for everyone. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) leads the service effort and rallies organizations and volunteers around the holiday, which “empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers,  [and] creates solutions to social problems.”


Since its inception, a growing number of volunteers have joined community service projects in honor of Dr. King, and in recent years that number has been in the hundreds of thousands. According to a 2013 DiversityInc survey, many businesses organize special events for their employees and others give their employees the day off to participate in MLK Day service activities. The same survey noted that Kaiser Permanente sent over 7,000 volunteers to MLK Day service projects, which impacted approximately 35,000 people. Accenture employees also celebrate through volunteerism, serving with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and local schools.


What Makes MLK Day Service Projects Different?

Service projects on MLK Day are designed to honor Dr. King’s mission to respect people’s differences, help the less fortunate, and cultivate a spirit of equality and opportunity for all. Volunteers are mobilized behind a shared mission, and activities are specifically organized to integrate and acquaint people who might not have otherwise known each other.


Service projects promote conversation and appreciation amongst volunteers and with those they serve. Organizers are encouraged to inform and educate volunteers on Dr. King's mission, and how their work supports it. Also, CNCS offers numerous resources, such as marketing materials, social media strategies, activities and lesson plans for teachers (with the help of Scholastic), and discussion group topics, all of which can root service projects in Dr. King’s mission. 


How Can I Get Involved?

Whether you are an individual inspired to serve or an organization ready to take action, you can be a part of the national movement this Monday. To help you make the most of your experience, we’ve provided some helpful tips below.


  • Individuals or groups looking for a service project, click here and select “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service.”
  • Organizations hosting an MLK Day service project can register their events by clicking here.
  • Share your experience by telling CNCS about your project or sending pictures of you and your group in action. Click here to share.
  • General information can be found at the MLK Day home page or at the King Center’s web site

Dr. King once said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” Participating in a service project this Monday will help you realize greatness within yourself and others. You will be a part of a national effort to further Dr. King’s dream of a community of peace and giving. And, as Coretta Scott King once reflected, “The greatest gift Martin could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrate the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.” 

Photo courtesy of CNN.com

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