Arts & Culture

Ways to Pitch in on MLK Day

Celebrate the life of one of the nation’s greatest leaders with a day of service

photo: Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP

University of Georgia students Himani Yadav and Elizabeth Esser took part in a tree-planting project as part of the MLK Day of Service in Athens in 2019.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a day of service—a day to let go of work and find a way to contribute to your community. Though service might look a little different this year, below are a few great ways to get involved around the South, be it through planting a tree, donating to a virtual food drive, giving blood, or attending a webinar.


Check out United Way of Central Alabama’s list of outdoor volunteer opportunities that include staining park benches, community clean-ups, gardening, and invasive species removal. Or, register here to gather Saturday, Sunday, or Monday in Montgomery to beautify the outside of civil rights forerunner Claudette Colvin’s home and the surrounding King Hill community. 


EngageAR has a list of opportunities to pitch in around the state here, from attending the Central Arkansas Library System’s virtual events, to volunteering to spruce up the city of Osceola, to clearing a space for a community garden in North Little Rock. 


The virtual MLK Day Parade—one of the country’s oldest and largest MLK Day events—will be broadcast on WPLG-10 and WLRN/PBS on Monday and will highlight Dr. King’s work with the theme “Power in the People.” North Miami is putting on a walk-through exhibit in MLK Park, and HandsOn Broward in Broward County will host a virtual day of service on Monday for which volunteers can sign up to make tote bags and seed paper, write notes, and create dog and cat toys for a local animal shelter.


The volunteer organization Hands on Atlanta will be hosting a series of events in MLK’s hometown on Monday, both in person or virtually. You can plant trees in Brook Run Park, make fleece blankets at Ebenezer Baptist Church, attend a virtual civic dinner, or help out at a local food shelter. View the full list of activities here—there will be volunteer opportunities and events all month long. 


In Louisville, you can help clean up Chickasaw Park on Monday afternoon with the Olmstead Parks Conservancy, or attend the University of Kentucky’s virtual premiere of Fire and Heart: A Blueprint for Liberation, a documentary that examines racial discourse and healing in Kentucky.


Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans will offer free admission on Monday (at a reduced capacity) to exhibitions and virtual events that will use art to contemplate a world without racism. In Baton Rouge, the Walls Project is hosting MLK Fest, a week of activities you can read about here that include gardening, painting, and town clean-up.

North Carolina

In Durham, Book Harvest will present the Dream Big MLK Day Book Drive Celebration from noon to four on Monday. You can drop off books you’d like to donate, and Book Harvest will provide them to children in need. Or, visit Raleigh’s Activate Good page for more MLK Day opportunities, such as assembling mask and hygiene kits or planting trees with the Tar River Land Conservancy. 

South Carolina 

In the Lowcountry, the YWCA Greater Charleston will hold a virtual ecumenical service on Sunday, as well as a youth poetry slam contest on Monday, and encourages people to make an appointment to donate blood at the Red Cross location on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.


Volunteer Memphis has gathered a list here of virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities, including a blood drive, webinars, and a city clean-up. You can also register for the National Civil Rights Musuem’s “King Day: A Virtual Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday,” a streamed event including music from Garry Goin and Karen Brown and an address from the scholar Dr. Hasan Jeffries. 


The city of Dallas is hosting its thirty-ninth MLK Day celebration with a week’s worth of events including professional development sessions, a youth summit that will highlight opportunities for civic engagement, and an equity symposium on Friday, January 22. Houston’s annual parade, hosted in conjunction with the Black Heritage Society, will be held via virtual livestream here