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 again 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 community clean-ups, gardening, and invasive species removal. Or, head to Bankhead National Forest on Monday to help Wild Alabama keep the forest clean and healthy.


EngageAR has a list of opportunities to pitch in around the state here, from attending the Central Arkansas Library System’s virtual events, to hosting a winter warming station for homeless individuals, to building a community garden at Camp Jack, a veteran community center in Harrison. 


Miami’s MLK Day Parade—one of the country’s oldest and largest MLK Day events—will begin at 11am on Monday and follow eight miles that Dr. King once traveled during his frequent engagements in the city. Feeding Northeast Florida will host a food drive, and HandsOn Broward in Broward County will host a virtual day of service on Monday for which volunteers can sign up to make and fill tote bags with food, write notes, and create dog leashes out of plastic bags for local animal shelters.


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 garden, repair wheelchairs, pack wellness bags, and remove invasive species from Grove Park. View the full list of activities here—there will be volunteer opportunities and events all month long. 


In Louisville, you can plant trees in the city’s urban parks, attend the University of Louisville’s day of webinars and volunteering in the community, or participate in one of these virtual or in-person events hosted by the city of Lexington.


Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans will offer free admission on Monday to exhibitions and virtual events on the theme of passing the torch of social justice. In Baton Rouge, LSU hosts a day of volunteering around campus for students, faculty, and community members, along with a commemorative service.

North Carolina

In Durham, Book Harvest will present the Dream Big MLK Day Book Drive Celebration on Monday afternoon. 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, including packing food and maintaining a community garden. 

South Carolina 

The Columbia Museum of Art will host a storytelling event on Facebook Live by Friends of African American Art & Culture (FAAAC). In the Lowcountry, the YWCA Greater Charleston will hold a virtual ecumenical service on Sunday, as well as a parade 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 gardening and flower planting, webinars, and city clean-ups. 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 a performance by spoken word artist Carin Malone. 


The city of Dallas is hosting its fortieth MLK Day celebration with a week’s worth of events including professional development sessions, wreath laying and candle lighting ceremonies, and a social justice forum. Houston’s annual parade, hosted in conjunction with the Black Heritage Society, will go ahead in person this year, beginning at 10am at the intersection of Smith and Lamar streets downtown.