MLK Day 2024: Honoring Dr. King - Expanding Our Views on Service
On January 15th, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was born. He is remembered as a courageous and loving leader of the civil and human rights movement whose words and wisdom empowered masses globally at a time when polarization, discrimination and oppression due to race, gender, class, and otherwise marginalized identities plagued the nation. 56 years following his death, we still grapple with injustices, inequities, and poor distribution of power as a country and global community.
Each year, the United States observes Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on the third Monday in January. This day is intended to be a national day of service where individuals are to join together as a community, serving and supporting each other and our neighbors. As I step into this year of remembrance and commemoration of the late Martin Luther King Jr., I embrace a curious and ever-evolving understanding of what it means to be in service to ourselves and our communities. As a Black American man, Martin Luther King Jr. suffered several injustices–the ultimate being his 1968 assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. Throughout his career, Dr. King made it his business and his mission to center progress through non-violence towards a more loving, connected, and caring world. As a Black, queer person living on this land myself, Martin Luther King Jr. Day not only reminds me of King’s teachings and strivings for peace, but the several other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who fought for a better present and future, including those who had differing opinions on how to get there. I admire how Dr. King was able to collaborate with others in our community who had different visions towards the same goal. I am also reminded that the dream for collective peace and liberation is worked towards with resistance to and rejection of the forces which are not in alignment with this dream. Dr. King’s co-creation of protests, sit-ins, and various other civil rights organizing strategies leading to strides in the movement demonstrate this.
At a time where collective grief is immense, we are in need of visionaries with the passion to continue this work–as the work is far from done and it extends beyond January 15th. Being in service to our community can take many shapes. For some, it may look like utilizing privilege and capacity to eliminate barriers and create a more equitable world. For others, it might involve harnessing personal power to improve and build better realities for themselves and their community members. For many–particularly those who are historically marginalized–service to community may look like centering service to self in order to continue showing up at all. As I write this, I hold in my heart those who have little to no access to the time or resources for service through self-care.
As we observe MLK Day this year, I invite you to join me in considering and embracing the many layers of service in our communities, and to do what you can towards creating a more just world.
Happy Birthday, and thank you, Martin Luther King Jr.!
- This link speaks to the 15 year battle for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to be approved as an observed holiday in the United States. This story speaks to the struggle that still exists to honor and affirm Black American leadership, including Dr. King.
- This is a link to an NPR Code Switch episode entitled, "Everyone from the tea party to immigrants rights groups want a piece of Dr. King". THe guest on this podcast is Hajar Yazdiha, author of The Struggle for the People's King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement
- Martin Luther King Jr. and Public Health. This piece speaks to several, lesser circulated quotes and speeches from King, especially with a focus on health and health discrimination.
Opportunities for Engagement
- King Center: https://thekingcenter.org/
- Seattle MLK Coalition: https://www.seattlemlkcoalition.org/
- March and Rally info: https://www.seattlemlkcoalition.org/route
- United Way/Seattle Service Opportunities: https://www.uwkc.org/volunteer/mlk-day-of-service/
- San Diego Annual MLK Parade: https://www.sandiegoalphas.com/mlk-parade
- Hands On San Diego - Service Opportunities: https://www.handsonsandiego.org/mlkday
About the Author:
Mariah Emerson is a second-year Naturopathic medical student with a background in community care through diversity, equity, and inclusion framework implementation, communications strategy, ancestral and energetic healing, and community curation. She served as the Social Justice team lead for the Student Council from 2022-2023 and is currently a work-study program and office assistant for the Office of DEI.