In 2012, a survey from the Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs reported that only 30 percent of nonfederal employers honored Martin Luther King Day with a paid day off of work to celebrate.
Consider arriving early or working through lunch to leave early to enjoy the day. If you do have the whole day off, you may be tempted to play couch potato before settling into your standard viewing of Eyes on the Prize.
But if you can harness the energy of our foremothers and forefathers who spent days marching and sitting in at lunch counters, here are 10 low-key (and even free!) ways to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:
- Make a lunch or dinner date with a senior Black American who lived during Dr. King’s time. This could be your grandparents, senior aunts and uncles, or maybe even parents. If you are far from home, ask one of your mentors, neighbors or spiritual congregation members to fit you in on King Day. Oh, the stories! Take the occasion to visit that Black-owned restaurant or smoothie joint you’ve been meaning to get to. Make reservations early if necessary!
- Make a lunch or dinner date with a young person who may only think of a Whopper when you say “King.” You would be surprised to know how much the digital age has sliced off time to educate today’s young people on the history and heroes we take for granted. Lose your latte or sushi takeout to take teen or tween out to their favorite spot. They will be out of school, so grab up a relative or neighbor or mentee for some quality one-on-one time. A group of them would be even better. You would be amazed at how much easier young people open up over a Subway. Share the importance of Dr. King and his compadres of the 60’s.
- Remember Coretta. Behind every great man…well, you know. Dr. King’s life partner survived the eye of the storm that characterized their marriage, steadfast and forever-energized on the frontlines with Dr. King. Coretta Scott King remained a civil rights activist until her 2006 death at the age of 79. For nearly a decade, she stayed at the helm of a heroic push to make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday in 1986. View her Atlanta Journal-Constitution obituary for a short outline of her stunning lifetime achievements.
- Volunteer. Many Americans do not know that King Day has been a National Day of Service as designated by the United States Congress since 1994. You can show up to join a team of volunteers serve food to the needy, repair homes in the community, or brighten up the day for less fortunate children. Learn more about this groundbreaking calendar event at: http://mlkday.gov/ Or, you can go directly to finding a service project just by entering in your zip code here.
- Downsize and Donate. Monday, after weekend errands are finished, is the perfect day to tackle that lingering home organization project we all dread: purging, starting over and organizing our wardrobes. The start of the year is a perfect time to shed the dead weight an overloaded closet can bring. It is also a time of the year when quality, warm clothes are in high demand by many who can not afford the excess we can take for granted. Catch the television and radio shows on Dr. King while tearing through your closet and bagging up unwanted or scarcely worn garments for charitable donation to Goodwill or a local church.
- Write down your dreams. As children, dreaming came naturally and frequently. Everything in the world was a surprise, a new possibility and an exciting novelty. But we settle into routine — work, gym, date night, soccer and swim practice carpools. The only dreams many of us have happen overnight. Use Dr. King’s most famous words — “I Have a Dream” — to jumpstart you remembering yours: whether they be to play your part in furthering world peace, DJ (again), visit that country at the top of your “Must See” list, adopt a child, buy or build a house, go back to school, or learn something you had to let fall by the wayside while you earned your degrees or toiled in your career. Get the whole family involved, or involve your friends in an email-share with the “I Have a Dream” prompt. If Uncle Larry wants to pitch for the Yankees (at 55), cheer him on and suggest a trip to New York…where he may catch the ball.
- Host a King Day Party. A beer and pizza party seems to come naturally at Superbowl and BET Awards time. But what about on King Day? Hopefully, there will be some measure of free time for many people you know. Have a laid back gathering. Visit your local Costco’s for pre-prepared party trays if you do not want to spend time making them yourself, or have it catered. Create a safe (and responsibly tipsy) place for your friends to not just celebrate how far Black Americans have come, but also refresh on what those who walked before us experienced that may be similar to what we confront still in America today.
- Purchase a book from a Black-owned bookstore. View this comprehensive list of Black-owned bookstores by state on African-American Literature Book Club. Most bookstores listed here or online are in major metropolitan areas, so it may take some research on your part to find one if you live in a small town. Many bookstores will be holding special King Day discount and sale offers. Your patronage and support will be appreciated.
- Visit a local senior citizen nursing home. We walk and drive past history on a daily basis without ever recognizing what treasures of memory, knowledge and experience are right around us. Many of us may have loved ones who are in nursing homes. Use the King Holiday off or weekend before (if you work King Day) to spend meaningful time with our elderly. You will be guaranteed to have something in common to watch with them on television during one of the most exciting times of the year for Black history. Call ahead for visiting times.
- Attend a lecture or special service. Your local city newspaper (print or online edition) is the perfect place to start looking for an event to attend. Most college and university communities do offer meaningful lectures or community events to commemorate King Day. Most of the larger community churches do as well. In the Southern states where Dr. King lived and worked most frequently, or in bigger cities, you may catch one of our famous historical figures delivering a speech.