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A Day On, Not a Day Off

Silhouette back view of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving speech on various concepts of the Civil rights movement

The third Monday in January is a day of remembrance. It is the day we observe the birth of U.S. civil rights activist and Baptist minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.1 But did you know that this day is also recognized as one of only two Congressionally Designated Days of Service, the other being September 11th?2

On Nov. 3, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law that designated the third Monday in January a federal holiday in Dr. King’s honor—the “King Holiday Bill.”3 While the legislation was introduced four days after his assassination on April 4, 1968, it was not enacted into law until 15 years later and another 17 years passed before it was recognized across all 50 states.4

What makes this “a day on, not a day off”?
In 1994, 26 years after Dr. King’s assassination, President Bill Clinton signed the King Holiday and Service Act into law.5 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the idea of a “Beloved Community;”6 a belief in uplifting not just a singular oppressed group but people from all walks of life. He believed this was a birthright. This was the community he envisioned, and it underscores the impetus behind the 1994 Act. The King Holiday and Service Act is designated as a call to action that invites Americans to make an impact in any way they choose and to contribute to make their communities a better place.

“No work is insignificant”7
Dr. King once said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”8 He believed in a community that offered equal opportunities for all and one in which we all lend a hand to our fellow community members.

An act of service or kindness does not need to be isolated to one day or to one organization. Help a neighbor; it can be as simple as offering to clear a car or driveway of snow for the person living next door to you. It could be a sticky note on the mailbox congratulating your postal worker on their retirement, or even dedicating a few hours to sorting food donations after the holiday influx at your local food bank. Even one small gesture of kindness from each of us can cultivate an ongoing network of kindness.

Here are some ideas to spark your next act of kindness or plan for community involvement:

  • Volunteer to be a book reader at your child’s school and read a children’s book about Dr. King or another activist
  • Sign up to volunteer with Meals on Wheels America, an organization dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger
  • Find a local volunteer opportunity through AmeriCorps Volunteer Search powered by VolunteerMatch
  • Check out the MLK Day of Service website to find volunteer opportunities dedicated to celebrating Dr. King


  5. www.congress.go

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