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Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

In the United States, the third Monday of January is known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – a day to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King. (Dr. King was born on January 15th, 1929.) This federal holiday is also the only national holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer in their communities. 

Here are a number of ways to celebrate MLK Day, and incorporate Dr. King’s lessons and legacy, into every day.

MLK Day celebration at the California African American Museum
Photo courtesy of California African American Museum. Photo by HRDWRKER

Things to do to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Big Sunday’s Virtual MLK Day – Block Party and Clothing Collection

Big Sunday’s Virtual MLK Day is happening on Monday, January 18th from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm on Zoom. The virtual activities include music and dancing, and projects you can do at home. In addition, families can donate new clothes to Big Sunday’s clothing collection drive. There are many ways to help at home, including making cards, assembling kits, and more. Register online. 

MLK Day Celebration 2021 – Virtual Celebration at CAAM

The California African American Museum (CAAM) invites families to participate in its MLK Day Celebration 2021 on Monday, January 18th from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm. This virtual festival “highlights MLK’s dedication to labor and workers’ rights, and these movements’ continued importance today.” Festivities include musical performances, a family story time and poetry workshop, and more. Check the website to RSVP for this free event and for a schedule of the day’s events.

The People’s Holiday – NMAAHC’s Virtual Event

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is hosting a special event to honor Dr. King on January 18th from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm EST. This virtual event features a 45-minute jazz and poetry concert, a discussion, and more. Registration is recommended for this free event. 

11th Annual Long Beach MLK Day of Service

The city of Long Beach invites families to participate in its 11th Annual Long Beach MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 18th, 2021. Families are encouraged to “Make It a Day On, not a Day Off” on this special day. Activities include a virtual community kick-off, community service projects, and more. Check the website for details as they become available. 6

MLK Jr. Day of Service

On Monday, January 18, 2021, “L.A. Works will continue our longstanding tradition of organizing Angelenos in service and activism (virtually and in-person) to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” Check the website for details about virtual projects, drive-thru volunteer opportunities, an interactive March on Washington in Minecraft, and more. 

36th Annual Kingdom Day Parade
Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 

The 36th Annual Kingdom Day Parade is scheduled for Monday, January 18th, 2021; however, be sure to check the website for details, because the parade may look different due to the pandemic . The parade’s theme is “Equality For All Humanity, Our Next Step.” Generally, the parade (a televised event) features marching bands, community groups, local politicians, and more. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Day Peace March at Tom Bradley Elementary School
Dr. Martin Luther King Day Peace March at Tom Bradley Elementary School (used with permission)

23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day (Virtual) Peace March 
Tom Bradley Global Awareness Magnet Elementary School 
Friday, January 15, the actual birthday of Dr. King at 9:00 a.m. 

For the past 22 years, Tom Bradley Global Awareness Magnet Elementary School students traditionally recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Friday before the national holiday in an all-school Peace March. This year due to the pandemic, they will pay tribute virtually during a Zoom event. Students, educators and special guests will participate in a Virtual Peace March that recreates their path through the Leimert Park neighborhood to two African-American landmarks: the Leimert Park home of the former mayor for whom the school was renamed in 1999, and the office of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a newspaper long considered a staple of Black life in Los Angeles.  

Happy MLK Day illustration
Watercolor iIllustration of Martin Luther King, Jr. to celebrate MLK day.

To Listen in Honor of MLK

Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” Song

Many people may not know that musician Stevie Wonder worked tirelessly to help recognize Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. This upbeat song features lyrics written as a tribute to Dr. King. 

To Watch to Celebrate MLK

Our Friend, Martin is “an adventure inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.” This time-traveling adventure takes two middle school friends back in time to learn about, and meet, Dr. King. The film is a mix of documentary footage and animation and is recommended for children 8 and older. 

For older kids, watch the 2014 film Selma featuring David Oyelowo as Dr. King. The movie is a powerful depiction of Dr. King’s “campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.”

Books To Read in Honor of MLK

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport. This popular picture book uses some of the words from Dr. King’s speeches to help tell his life story.

Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Bonnie Bader. The popular “Who Was” series has a biography of Dr. King’s life, including his early years, his nonviolent protests, all accompanied by 80 black-and-white illustrations.

National Geographic Kids: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Kitson Jazynka. This book is often found in classroom libraries. In addition to text, the book features timetables, diagrams, sidebars all designed to keep readers interested and engaged.

The Story of Martin Luther King Jr: A Biography Book for New Readers by Christine Platt. This book features bold illustrations and tells the story of Dr. King’s life, explaining the steps he took to make his dream a reality.

A Picture Book of Martin Luther King Jr by David A. Adler. Many parents and teachers are familiar with this series of biographies which serve as great introductions to famous individuals throughout history.

Be A King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford. This book is written as a “dual narrative of the key moments of Dr. King’s life alongside a modern class as the students learn about him.” 

I Have a Dream (Book and CD) by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Families can listen to Dr. King’s famous speech on an audio CD as they look at the book featuring realistic paintings. 

Show Me History: Martin Luther King Jr.: Voice for Equality! by James Buckley Jr. This book, part of the Show Me History series, tells the story of Dr. King’s life as a graphic novel. Full-color illustrations may entice more reluctant readers.  

To Learn More About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The King Center

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (also known as The King Center) was established in 1968 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Check The King Center’s Facebook page for information about their virtual events for Dr. King Day. While it’s not currently possible to visit the 23-acre site in Atlanta, the National Park Service does offer resources to virtually explore the site by clicking here.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC is a part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks.  Online, you’ll find photos and videos related to the memorial as well as more facts about the design and construction of the Memorial. 

Wendy Kennar is a mother, writer, and former teacher who has lived her entire life in the same Los Angeles zip code. You can read more from Wendy at her website where she writes about books, boys, and bodies (living with an invisible disability).

MomsLA is your source for Things to do with Kids in Los Angeles.

Martin Luther King JR day sign blue background illustration

Disclaimer: MomsLA has made every effort to confirm the information in this article; however, things can often change. Therefore, MomsLA makes no representations or warranties about the accuracy of the information published here. MomsLA strongly urges you to confirm any event details, like date, time, location, and admission, with the third party hosting the event. You assume the sole risk of relying on any of the information in our list. MomsLA is in no way responsible for any injuries or damages you sustain while attending any third party event posted on our website. Please read our Terms of Use which you have agreed to based on your continued use of this website. Some events have paid to be listed on MomsLA.

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