It has been 30 years since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first officially celebrated as a federal holiday in the United States. Just getting the day was a struggle all its own, one that began with Representative John Conyers introducing legislation just four days after King’s assassination in ’68 and ended with President Ronald Reagan signing Public Law 98-144 in ’83 (and later Public Law 98-399) after years of petitions and marches and Congressional testimony as to the impact King had on the nation.
It’s only fitting that the day, which serves as the official celebration of the Civil Rights Movement icon’s January 15 birthday and implores Americans to “reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change,” still inspires service and activism. There were hundreds of actions and programs yesterday (January 18) designed to not only reflect on King’s legacy, but extend and amplify it in a time when governments think it’s okay to deliver tainted water to the homes of Black families and police shootings of unarmed children go unanswered by the state. Here are some of the biggest:
Created by creative collective Blackout for Human Rights and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, this sold out event featured heavy-hitters bringing to the life the words of King and other freedom fighters at Riverside Church, where King delivered “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” in 1967. Over five hours, celebs took to the stage, including host and Blackout director Ryan Coogler, Harry Belafonte, Octavia Spencer, Lin Manuel Miranda, Michael B. Jordan, Anika Noni Rose, India Arie, Bilal and more. The event ended with a panel on today’s most pressing issues. Watch the full show here.
Spearheaded by The Movement for Black Lives, this campaign is in its second year of reclaiming the legacy of King to not only provide a more accurate—less "sanitized"—depiction of the man and his work but to use it to propel a new generation of activists. Twitter featured hundreds of posts of actions from the weekend aimed at divesting from racist systems and investing in Black communities, taking control of those communities and building institutions that address the prevailing needs of the people.
I want the human and messy King, not the sanitized and whitewashed King. I want the King that is relatable. #ReclaimMLK
— patrisse cullors (@osope) January 18, 2016
— BrownBlaze (@brownblaze) January 19, 2016
— Freedom (@DMVBlackLives) January 14, 2016
— kathychaney (@kathychaney) January 16, 2016
— Denzel (@DenzAnton_) January 16, 2016
— BYP100 (@BYP_100) January 18, 2016
— Oakland Post (@OaklandPostNews) January 18, 2016
— Eric Deamer (@ericdeamer) January 19, 2015
— Justice League NYC (@NYjusticeleague) January 18, 2016
Peace Week NYC
January 15 through 22 mark the sixth annual Peace Week, which is run by LIFE Camp. This is the first year the event—which reinforces MLK’s message of nonviolence and asks participants to integrate peace into their daily interactions—has made it to the city’s official calendar. One of the events brought together the families of victims lost to gun violence.
— LIFE Camp, Inc. (@LIFECampInc) January 17, 2016
#MLK Day of Service
In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, which made the holiday the only annual national day of service—“a day on, not a day off.” Accordingly, the Corporation for National and Community Service organizes events and maintains a crowdsourced list of local service activities for those who want to get involved. Here are some of the events that took place around the nation yesterday.
— NASA (@NASA) January 19, 2016
— Kim Guadagno (@KimGuadagnoNJ) January 18, 2016
— AmeriCorps (@americorps) January 18, 2016
— UGA (@universityofga) January 18, 2016