Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps one of the most important figures in modern American history. However, the holiday on which we celebrate his legacy is not adorned with carols or family feasts or fun tree ornaments. Instead, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is typically a day spent reflecting on the man and his ultimate dedication to fair treatment for all. When children are very young, it can be tricky to figure out how best to honor Dr. King while avoiding complex social discussions children may not be ready to have. Of course, it’s fairly simple to instill early on in your children an appreciation for the values Martin Luther King Jr. held most dear.
First, any Martin Luther King Jr. day activity should involve the speech. Many towns will have recitals of the speech, sometimes read by schoolchildren. This can be something kids and parents can enjoy, simply because it involves interacting with the community, which is what MLK would have liked about it. If your children are old enough, watch or listen to a recording of the speech first. Then they can attach the words to the man, and later have a better understanding of the context around the historic speech.
Second, since Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of the people—perhaps the man of the people—a good way to honor his legacy is to volunteer in your own community. While the majority of Dr. King’s advocacy took place in crime-ridden and impoverished neighborhoods, your own bit of volunteering can match your individual community’s needs and take place somewhere safe for children. One suggestion could be to volunteer at a nursing home, thereby exposing your kids to people from earlier generations who lived through the time of the man we’re honoring.
Finally, if you’re motivated enough and have the time, you can organize your own charitable event on that day, perhaps a toy and clothing drive for needy children or some sort of fundraiser for a local charity or nonprofit. While the story of Dr. King’s life and activism is excellent history to learn, the best way to honor him is to carry on his mission.
At the end of his life, Dr. King was moving away from the cause of racial inequality and focusing more on poverty as it affected all Americans. Dr. King knew that people speak up and act as long as their voices are being heard and those actions have meaning. He may not have made it to “the promised land,” but any chance we ever have of reaching it is because of him.