On November 3, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill that made a national holiday to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
The law creating this new national holiday went into effect on January 20, 1986, with Reagan issuing the first proclamation on January 18, 1986. Since then, we have celebrated Martin Luther King Day on the third Monday each January. (Note: Dr. King’s actual date of birth was January 15, 1929).
Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, advocated for this holiday for many years. In fact, she never wavered in her determination to preserve her husband’s legacy. Even while facing opposition from very vocal opponents to this holiday, she toiled to make the day a reality.
In defiance of the racism she encountered while pressing the government for this day, she envisioned a day of community service. Mrs. King knew that this vision was the best way to acknowledge her late husband’s years of serving Black Americans and all Americans.
In fact, many local events were canceled last year due to coronavirus. Once again, we find ourselves fighting the fast-spreading omicron variant with event cancellations due to taking a cautious approach.
But that does not mean that we should not pay respect to Dr. King and simply do nothing. Indeed, honoring him requires action; we must not be passive.
But here’s the good news–despite living in a rural community, you can still honor Dr. King’s dream.
Despite fears of viral spread, even those who stay home due to risk factors for COVID can celebrate by engaging in socially-distanced and “safer” acts of kindness and compassion.
Seven Ways You Can Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day While Social Distancing
- Fellowship: Attend an outdoor celebration if one is available in your area. Some churches will host “drive-up” events today. For those who have compromised immune system, these events are a lifeline.
- Transcribe: If you have a solid internet connection and want to do something with permanent impact, consider a transcription project. The Smithsonian’s Museum of African-American History has scanned thousands of original documents that need a transcriptionist to type them up to make them a permanent, digital record.
- Fight hunger: Drop off canned foods to a food bank or the local Blessings Box. Hunger knows no holidays.
- Recycle plastic bags: Create a bundle of plastic bags from your home and take them to a box for recycling instead of trashing them. You can drop them off outside the Food Lion store in the bin marked for this purpose.
- Surprise someone who needs a smile: Send a small e-gift card to someone in the community who deserves it. Consider a neighbor on a fixed income, your pastor, or your child’s day care teacher. Even a small five dollar token shows them that you care.
- Pray: You know someone who needs prayer. Someone you know has experienced trauma or tragedy, is fighting an addiction, lost a loved one recently, or faces economic struggles. God knows the need, just ask him to bless this person.
- Donate to an animal shelter: Clean out your linen closet and take your worn out towels, sheets, and blankets to the Bertie Humane Society. They welcome your cast-offs for the animals in their care.
Read a Dr. King Speech (or Watch on YouTube).
Besides performing an act of kindness, you might also devote thirty minutes to reading and reflecting on one of Dr. King’s many speeches. Although you might know well his “I Have a Dream Speech,” he was a prolific speaker, and you can find Dr. King’s speeches preserved online. Additionally, YouTubers have uploaded footage of many speaking events.
The minute-and-a-half clip below, a snippet of the “Proud to Be Maladjusted Speech,” comes from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The ninety-second cut gives a concise but precise glimpse into everything Dr. King believed.
The same YouTube channel also carries the full text of this speech. It is powerful.
Watch. Read. Reflect. Do something to help someone else today. Serving others with kindness and in a spirit of genuine compassion and love is the best way every American can honor Dr. King’s legacy today.
So here is the million-dollar question. What will you do?