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Why Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a national day of service

This federal holiday is the only one considered a national day of service

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Photograph of Martin Luther King Jr.

Deseret News Archives

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a day which commemorates Civil Rights activist, Baptist preacher and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr.

King was known for his activism against segregation and his advocacy for civil rights. Born on Jan. 15, 1929, King is perhaps the most influential civil rights activist in America. He delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 and was assassinated in 1968 because of his advocacy.

According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, it took more than a decade for Martin Luther King Jr. Day to become a federal holiday. President Ronald Regan signed the bill designating it a federal holiday in 1983 — it is also the only federal holiday considered a national day of service.

This means that volunteering and offering community service to others is a way to celebrate the holiday.

Why Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day of service

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of service is a way to celebrate King’s own service and influence.

While many consider this holiday a day-off of work, it is designed to be a “day-on” of service. “The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community,” per American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

According to The King Center, King was inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ and Gandhi. The six non-violent principles he espoused such as “Nonviolence Holds That Unearned, Voluntary Suffering for a Just Cause Can Educate and Transform People and Societies” and “Nonviolence Chooses Love Instead of Hate” were designed to combat three great evils: racism, poverty and militarism.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of service is a way to commemorate and celebrate King’s influence.

How to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Go serve in your local community.

  • Donate money to the NAACP, which uses funds to give business and education grants.
  • Check a nearby food shelter’s website to see what donates they need.
  • Go to a park and pick up the trash you see.
  • Write cards to children in hospitals.
  • Prepare donations to your local women’s shelter.