Martin Luther King Day: A Day On, Not Off

01/12/2017 10:52 am ET Updated Jan 13, 2017

On January 16th, our nation unites in honor of the leadership and compassion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who tirelessly lead the United States in her struggle for civil rights and community values. His vision of a United States free of discrimination and oppression inspired numerous nonviolent movements across the country. Dr. King’s courageous stance against systemic racism helped him become one of the most well known leaders during the Civil Rights Movement. Many pay tribute to his legacy of peace and commitment to the community each year through acts of service.

Signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Day was first recognized as a federal holiday in 1986. In 1994, Congress designated Martin Luther King Day as a national day of service, noting it was a “day on, not a day off.” In 2009, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama launched United We Serve. This initiative reaffirms the call to service to “create a sustained, collaborative, and focused effort to meet community needs.” Reminding citizens that “injustice remains in many corners of our country” and that “it is our mission to fulfill King’s vision of a Nation devoted to rejecting bigotry in all its forms,” the holiday inspired numerous projects nationwide. This National Day of Service has inspired numerous projects, as citizens volunteer at soup kitchens, Veterans Affairs offices, and local schools. This year, find a creative way to serve, maybe with one of these ideas and organizations to further Dr. King’s legacy of civic engagement.

1. Support a Local Food Bank: Feeding America has numerous initiatives devoted to ensuring that no one goes to bed hungry. Find a volunteer opportunity near you, and spend the day preparing meals, organizing supplies, or collecting goods.

2. Plant Trees in Your Neighborhood: With tree cover declining in urban areas and air pollution on the rise, planting trees is a simple act that promotes environmental wellness and community health. Gather some friends and find a site to plant your tree. Be sure to follow these Utah State University guidelines.

3. Become a STEM mentor: President Obama has prioritized math and science education for our nation’s students. Mentorship provides future scientists, mathematicians, and engineers with guidance and inspiration, which is especially crucial for low-income students. If you are called to be a STEM mentor, learn more here.

4. Teach Financial Literacy: Most of us don’t learn the ins and outs of budgeting, credit, and savings in high school; many never learn effective tools for financial literacy. Teaching money management helps community members avoid pitfalls and possibly poverty. For more information, read these guidelines from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

5. Help Families Access Health Care: For low-income families, receiving proper medical care may be a struggle, and parents may be unaware of resources. CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) provides free or reduced cost care to families and children. Help families receive the care they need by organizing outreach events to educate families.

Citizens can also find local volunteer opportunities or register their own event with the All For Good website. However you decide to honor this holiday and spread Dr. King’s message of compassion, my team and I wish you a happy Martin Luther King Day, and hope that everyone finds a meaningful way to celebrate.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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