Dr. King Day : Turning Dreams Into Deeds

On January 16, will your students be thinking about the real reason for the national holiday? Or will they simply think of it as one part of a nice three-day weekend?

For so many students — and teachers alike — the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. is just another day off, rather than an active celebration of the life of America’s most prominent peacemaker. White students in particular may not think this holiday has much to do with them. And with an African-American leader in the White House, today’s young people may be thinking that racism is a thing of the past — a problem for older generations, not theirs. But in spite of great strides made since the Civil Rights era, racism still presents serious challenges for America. 

King Day offers a timely opportunity to remind students of these challenges, and encourage them to reverse the damaging beliefs, behaviors and systems associated with discrimination. So what can you do? The educators at RaceBridgesforSchools, a nonprofit initiative that offers free lesson plans on diversity and community-building, have these suggestions to help you bring Dr. King’s message and mission into your school.

  1. Promote service learning.Many people are not aware of the service component of the holiday: in 1994 Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by serving the community. Do this at your school by organizing a day of service: students can serve at a soup kitchen, plant trees or deliver meals to homebound persons..
  2. Write a commitment pledge to racial unity at your school. King Day is an excellent time to develop and commit to a pledge against racism. Get students and faculty engaged in the process where all can contribute in a reflective and honest way to write this pledge. Have the completed pledge printed up in a large format, and encourage school administrators to adopt the pledge, distribute it, and have the students say it together at a special time during the week before King Day..
  3. Start an anti-racism or diversity club for students and/or faculty.Now’s a great time to form a group that focuses on many of the challenges Dr. King spoke of. You can begin by discussing issues and themes of ethnic and racial differences and conflicts at your schools, and move on to consider what positive actions you would like to take as a group to address these issues..

Martin Luther King’s son, Dexter, in a speech initiating the national holiday for his assassinated father, said, “The holiday for my father is not just for black people…the holiday for the birthday of my father is for all people of goodwill everywhere.” As schools work to recognize and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, MLK Day can become more than a day off, and a more meaningful celebration for students of all backgrounds.

For more ideas about celebrating the birthday
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. –and resources and
lesson plans for encouraging diversity year round —
visit RaceBridges Studio