Martin Luther King Jr. Day: A National Day of Service

Dr. King's birthday is also a day to help others

By Kyrie Collins, Highlands Ranch-Parker-Castle Rock-Lone Tree Publisher January 17, 2022

"Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The third Monday of January is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the only federal holiday that is observed as a National Day of Service — a "day on, not a day off."

The Rev. Dr. King was a powerful orator and civil rights leader in the 1960s who changed the course of history through nonviolent activism and service. He is most well known for his "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, calling for an end to racial discrimination.

Read the full text of Dr. King's most famous speech or watch the video:

The campaign for a federal holiday in Dr. King's honor began shortly after his assassination in 1968. President Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983 and it was first observed on January 20, 1986. Congress designated the holiday as a National Day of Service in 1994. However, the holiday wasn't officially observed in all 50 states until 2000.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The MLK Day of Service shines a spotlight on service as a powerful force to bridge economic and social divides, today and throughout the year. Service is a powerful way for citizens, nonprofits, the private sector, and the government to work together to meet critical needs and advance Dr. King's dream of opportunity for all.

What kind of service projects can you do to honor Martin Luther King Jr.? Anything! Any type of public service honors Dr. King and his vision. Families can:

  • Make cards for nursing home residents
  • Host a book drive
  • Create Blessing Bags for homeless or families in need
  • Make no-sew fleece blankets for children in the hospital
  • Collect and sort school supplies to benefit a local shelter or library
  • Drop off nonperishable food and toiletry items at a local food bank
  • Visit with animals at a local shelter
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter
  • Prepare food, shovel snow, and do chores for an elderly or disabled neighbor
  • Participate in charity walks or runs
  • Or simply spend some time with someone who needs a friend with an attentive ear.

You can also visit to find local organizations seeking volunteers now and year-round.

Learn more about Dr. King on The King Center website.