January 11, 2022
In commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17, organizations around the Philadelphia area are gearing up for the largest collective volunteer and community service day of the year.
While the federal holiday means many working Americans have the day off, organizers are emphasizing the mission of "a day on, not a day off," encouraging residents to spend their time volunteering and taking an active role in their communities to celebrate the legacy of the civil rights activist.
The fight for MLK Day began just four days following his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. However, it did not come to fruition until 1983, when President Reagan signed a bill establishing it as a federal holiday. It was first celebrated federally in 1986, but was not observed by every state until 2000.
Here are a few ways to take part in Martin Luther King Day celebrations and service opportunities across Philadelphia, whether in-person or at home.
In its 27th year, the Global Citizen-sponsored service day event is being held at Girard College. The largest of its kind in the country, this year's day of service is centered around the theme: "combating racism and building community."
During a Jan. 5 news conference announcing plans for the Day of Service, Loraine Ballard Morrill of iHeartRadio Philly noted that the college has been used as the setting for many MLK Day events, in part because it serves as "an historic reminder of the power of citizen activism."
Girard College was the backdrop of a larger protest movement spearheaded by Cecil B. Moore in the 1960s, when he fought to allow the admission of African-American students into the college. The desegregation initiative was recently celebrated with a mural near the college's campus.
As part of the service day, which will run from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium will provide vaccines to anyone aged 5 and older, and will supply PPE, flu shots, and additional health-related resources to participants.
Location: Girard College, 2101 S. College Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19121
As part of Eastern State's recent efforts to increase its presence in social causes, the former prison site will host two service events in commemoration of MLK Day.
First is an in-person service project taking place from 12:30 until 1:30 p.m. Participants can sort through Purpose Postcards written by visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary's "Night Tours" program since May 2021. The event is free, but requires prior registration.
Immediately following the Purpose Postcard event is a hybrid program that is free without additional registration. From 1:30 until 3:30 p.m., participants can hear a three-act reading and interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 text, "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
Special guests will be there to discuss the text's relevancy in today's political and activist climate, and will share music and art related to Dr. King's legacy. Participants are also encouraged to write a letter to someone who is currently incarcerated, and can do so at a letter-writing station that will be set up.
Location: Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19130
The Social Impact Cafe is hosting an MLK Day of Service event, which includes a mural-painting program that will allow participants to take home their own artwork. There are 50 seats available for guests, who can sign up for a spot on the business' website.
The event will be hosted in collaboration with ARTrageous in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
Participants will receive a free lunch, free children's and adult books, and free food for families provided by Philly FoodWorks, Iovine Brothers, and the SHARE Food Program.
Location: Social Impact Cafe, 1919 W. Medary Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19141
Since Terrill Haigler — known across Philly as Ya Fav Trashman — established nonprofit organization Trash 2 Treasure Inc. in September 2021, the organizer and activist has been working across local communities to help clean up and beautify the city.
To celebrate MLK, Haigler will be holding a cleanup event in a North Philadelphia community. The exact address will be announced on Friday, Jan. 14. Corporate sponsors including Titos Vodka, Jack Daniels, ShopRite, and Saxby's Coffee donated $5,000 in order to help him hold the event.
The event will run from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., with a happy hour to follow until 3 p.m.
Sharing Excess, which helps fight food insecurity throughout Philadelphia, will be donating 200 boxes of groceries to the surrounding neighborhood.
Location: North Philadelphia, 19120
Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles, a furniture collection store in North Philadelphia with a mission to enhance and support the African community, will be hosting its 25th annual MLK Day Event and Volunteer Project.
The event will be held at their store on Jan. 17 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The in-person portion of the event requires pre-registration, and will divide participants into three groups in a 2.5 hour volunteer opportunity, which will involve a Zoom training ahead of the project.
Uhuru asks that all participants wear masks and dress warm, as the socially-distanced volunteer project is outdoors.
A virtual Zoom event will be held from 10 until 11:30 a.m., which includes music, speakers, and showings of historic films featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Location: Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles, 832 N. Broad St. Philadelphia, PA 19130
The National Constitution Center will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Jan. 17 to commemorate MLK Day, both in-person and online. All admission is free with prior registration.
The programming includes a reading of the "I Have a Dream Speech" by local actors and students, followed by a family concert featuring songs from the Civil Rights era.
For the younger ones taking part, the museum will have live readings of children's books about the Civil Rights era and Martin Luther King Jr. An arts and crafts section will also be available for visitors to commemorate the day.
The museum will also host a school supplies drive for local students. Donations can be brought to The National Constitution Center all month long, and will be donated to the School District of Philadelphia.
A full collection of online resources — including an online course offered by The National Constitution Center about the Civil Rights Movement — is available through the museum's website.
Location: National Constitution Center, Independence Mall, 525 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19106