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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy — And How You Can Uphold His Dream

Martin Luther King speech

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is wide and well-known, and usually, the observance day (January 17) is reserved for community events of remembrance. But this year, loved ones of the slain civil rights leader are asking for no celebrations without the passage of voting rights legislation. Which means they are requesting service in action. 

Perhaps one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most moving speeches and calls to action—in which he fervently asks us to serve each other—is a sermon now known as “The Drum Major Instinct.” He delivered it exactly two months before his assassination, on February 4, 1968, at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, which meant it wasn’t delivered on a grand stage, rather it was part of a Sabbath service given in his home church. In it, he fiercely advocates for citizenship and stewardship, and in looking outward to understand what humanity needs. He asks us to fill these voids, to be the one who steps up and steps in for justice, peace, righteousness, and to live a committed life through deeds and action. In his sermon, he also muses upon the day of his own death and what he wishes to be remembered for: “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.” 

Martin Luther King press conference
Rev. Martin Luther King at a press conference,
photo by Dick DeMarsico. Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-122988)


Ultimately he is calling us to serve, which requires no entitlements or credentials but “a heart full of grace” and a “soul generated by love.” And this path to greatness, to leading as a drum major does, is available to all. In his honor, we are rising to the challenge and looking for ways to be helpers and to serve. Below are a few organizations that we’ll lend our time and energy to, and likewise we encourage you to be on the lookout for ways to use your time and talents to uplift others. 

Become a virtual tutor: Attend an orientation through LA Works on MLK Day to become a virtual tutor for low-income students. 

Make the world more visible: The app “Be My Eyes” connects blind and low vision individuals to sighted volunteers for virtual assistance through video calls and connections. 

Put your language skills to use: Become a translator through Translators Without Borders, and help international organizations that focus on crisis relief, health, and education.  

Help preserve historical books: Project Gutenburg is creating the largest free digital library! You can donate eligible material, help transcribe books into digital form, and sign up to proofread

Donate professional skills to a nonprofit: Catachafire connects professional volunteers in various fields (marketing, development, finance, etc.) with nonprofits who need assistance but don’t have the funds to hire.

And kids, listen up! There are acts of kindness that you too can do, any day, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s honor. Remember, serving others can be as simple as giving your mom an extra big hug. Oftentimes small acts of unexpected love can become the ripple that grows and blooms, sent out into the world in beautiful and life-changing ways. And you just might find that when you serve others it makes you feel good, too!

idea lightbulb Honest History

Here are a few ideas: 

Say “I love you!” often and with heart 

Ask someone to play who is by herself on the playground

Tell a teacher if you notice someone being picked on, ridiculed, or made to feel small

Ask your mom/dad/brother/sister/teacher if she or he needs help! A little thoughtfulness goes a long way 

Offer to set the table or do the dishes after dinner 

Read a book to your little brother or sister 

Call your grandma/grandpa/aunt/uncle/cousin just to say hi 

Offer to help a friend/sibling with homework

Pick up litter that you may come across at the park or in your neighborhood 

Dole out compliments frequently 

Walk the dog without being asked  

Make your bed and tidy up your bedroom without your parents asking 

Use polite manners, always 

Write thank-you notes for when others have been generous 

Include everyone in games at recess or playtime

Donate a few books to your community Little Free Library 

Use the phrase, “It’s your turn!” or “You go ahead!” more frequently 

Listen intently, look people in the eyes, and speak respectfully and kindly