In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood."
Martin Luther King Day became a national holiday in 1983. Today, MLK Day volunteering opportunities help make Martin Luther King's vision of a beloved community a reality. People celebrate Martin Luther King's legacy by volunteering their time and money in support of racial justice, civil rights, and equality.
The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice have brought a new urgency to MLK Day 2021. With a growing number of Americans falling into poverty and millions still facing systemic racism, nonprofit organizations play a critical role in strengthening communities. Here are the best MLK Day volunteering and donating opportunities.
Volunteer Your Time
Many organizations offer virtual volunteer opportunities and other ways to safely volunteer your time for MLK Day 2021. Volunteers can also create their own virtual projects to give back.
- MLK Day of Service Run by AmeriCorps, the MLK Day of Service site connects volunteers with opportunities in their communities. Visitors can find project resources, identify local events, and attend webinars about hosting MLK Day of Service events safely during the pandemic. The site also connects volunteers with opportunities throughout the year.
- Points of Light A nonprofit organization devoted to volunteer service, Points of Light hosts events for MLK Day. Points of Light connects volunteers with opportunities in their community through a database of projects searchable by zip code. Volunteers can create a service project, host discussions in their community, or educate children about the civil rights movement.
- MLK Serve-A-Thon Hunger Free America will host its 20th annual MLK Serve-A-Thon in 2021. Due to the pandemic, the Serve-A-Thon will include virtual workshops on food justice and a virtual service activity. The workshops will explore the intersection between food justice and issues like racial justice, public health, and economic justice.
- American Red Cross January is National Blood Donor Month. The pandemic has increased the need for blood donations, and the American Red Cross uses strict safety protocols to keep donors safe. By donating on MLK Day, volunteers can help protect community health and support the healthcare system. The American Red Cross also hosts MLK Day of Service events.
- Start Your Own Project With help from All For Good, you can create a virtual project in your own community for MLK Day. In addition to registering a project, visitors to the site can find local volunteer opportunities. All For Good promotes social distancing and includes a list of volunteer-from-home opportunities on their site.
Donate Your Money
If you have room in your budget, consider making a donation for MLK Day. Organizations dedicated to racial justice, civil rights, and human rights all accept donations to support them in reaching their goals.
- The King Center Founded by Coretta Scott King in 1968, the King Center promotes nonviolent social change. The King Center holds virtual events and educates visitors on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Donations help the King Center offer virtual nonviolence training, run a youth leadership academy, and host virtual teach-ins for students.
- Global Giving Global Giving connects nonprofit organizations across 170 countries with donors. The not-for-profit site makes it easy to donate to, for example, a gender equality organization in Uganda, a preschool project in South Africa, or a fruit tree nonprofit operating on Native American reservations.
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund Thurgood Marshall founded LDF in 1940, and since then it has played a central role in the fight for civil rights. LDF focuses on equal justice, economic justice, and political participation cases. Donations support the group's mission of building an inclusive society based on racial justice and equity.
- Alliance for Children's Rights The Alliance advocates for vulnerable children in the foster care system, connecting them with education services, healthcare, and other resources. In addition to donations, the Alliance offers volunteer opportunities, including for mentors, client intake specialists, and pro-bono advocates.
- Charity Navigator Civil Rights Charities Charity Navigator rates nonprofit organizations on their financial health, accountability, and transparency so donors can identify the most efficient and effective charities to support. The organization's curated list of civil rights charities connects donors with national nonprofits that support civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.
This MLK Day, students can honor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy by donating their time and money to support community and advocacy projects. Whatever you choose to do for MLK Day — whether it's helping feed people struggling with food insecurity or building homes for neighbors in need — make sure to make it "a day on, not a day off."
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.
Header Image Credit: Stephen F. Somerstein, Leslie Banks / EyeEm | Getty Images