Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – a.k.a. MLK Day. It’s a day to recognize a man who risked his life to see his children live in a nation built on equality. Events celebrating King’s life + legacy are kicking off this weekend.
Here’s what you need to know about the day:
In 1979, Coretta King (widow of MLK) led the charge in honoring her husband’s memory by petitioning for a national holiday to be created in his name. She testified before a joint hearing of Congress and organized a nationwide lobby to support the King-holiday bill, but the bill was defeated in the House by just five votes.
🎶 Following Coretta’s persistence to approve the national holiday, in 1980 prominent proponent Stevie Wonder released the song “Happy Birthday”– which became a rallying cry. MLK’s actual birthday is Jan. 15.
🎂 The national holiday was officially created when the bill passed in 1983 – 15 years after his assassination.
🗓 It was first observed in 1986, three years after the passing of said bill.
🇺🇸 The last states to sign the bill recognizing MLK Day as a paid holiday did so in 2000.
🕯 The first celebrations, held across the country on Jan. 20, 1986, consisted of marches, candlelight vigils, concerts, readings, church services, + teach-ins.
📅 It’s always on the third Monday of January.
🌱 Since 1994, MLK Day has been observed as a national day of service– spent volunteering, giving back + donating to the community.
DYK: This year marks the 53rd anniversary of King’s assassination.
Want to celebrate here in Asheville? Keep reading for a list of events + service opportunities scheduled for the days ahead.
Day on, not day off
According to the CNCS (Corporation for National and Community Service), “MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”
DYK: The term “Beloved Community” was adopted by Dr. King to describe his vision of a society in which everyone shares equally in wealth and abides by his principles of nonviolent social change.
The Six Steps of Nonviolent Change are gathering, education, personal commitment, discussion + negotiation, direct action, and reconciliation. Read more about them here.
How to commemorate Dr. King’s Day of Service
MLK Association events
This year, events planned by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County will take place from Jan. 15-19 and will be virtual (on YouTube or Zoom) due to COVID-19. Protip: Subscribe to the Association’s YouTube channel to receive notifications when events are published and available to view. All events are free + open to the public.
- Official Kickoff: Remembering Our Past and the Equal Justice Initiative | Fri., Jan. 15 | Kickoff address, city/county welcome, the Buncombe County Remembrance Project, the Equal Justice Initiative, reflections from David Gantt, and a panel discussion on racial + social justice.
- Prayer Breakfast: 40 Years of Commemorating Dr. King’s Dream and Legacy | Sat., Jan. 16 | Music, welcome message, keynote speech from Dr. Oralene Simmons.
- Say Their Names | Sun., Jan. 17 | With Equal Justice Initiative Videos and a presentation on the Buncombe Community Remembrance Project Research, in memoriam, “Say Their Names,” and the Interracial RAIL Project.
- Peace March and Rally: Marching to the Promised Land | Mon., Jan. 18 | With a talk on understanding the march, a call to action, and virtual march.
- Candlelight Service: Honoring Community Leaders | Mon., Jan. 18 | A celebration to announce + honor this year’s awardees.
- Closing Celebration: Community Resiliency and Moving the Dream Forward | Tues., Jan. 19 | With a closing address, as well as resources for resilience presentation + empowerment.
Hood Huggers International
Hood Huggers International will host their annual Day of Service in person (with social distancing) on MLK Day –
- Annual MLK Day of Service | Mon., Jan. 18 | 12 p.m. | Burton Street Community Peace Gardens, Bryant St. | Free | Wear your mask and layer up to help with community service projects in the Burton St. neighborhood. A focus will be on getting the gardens ready for spring planting, so bring a pair of gloves.
Kenilworth Presbyterian Church
- Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King and Black History Month | Mon., Jan. 18-Mon., Feb. 1 | Various Times | Virtual | Free | This year’s theme is “Don’t Be Afraid to Change the World.” Daily content includes art, film, online activities, non-violence training + more. The event is also a fundraiser for a new scholarship at UNC Asheville honoring the legacies of Dr. Dolly Mullen and Dr. Dwight Mullen; donate here.
Later this month, UNC Asheville will honor King with the following events:
- MLK Commemorative Panel – Pathways to Liberation: Grassroots to Government | Mon., Jan. 25 | 6-7:30 p.m. | Virtual | Free; register | With City Councilmembers Sandra Kilgore and Antanette Mosley, London Newton (President, UNC Asheville Student Government Association), and Bryan Thompson (President, Warren Wilson College Black Student Union).
- Keynote: Remigining Black Liberation | Tues., Jan. 26 | 7 p.m. | Virtual | Free | From keynote speaker and Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper, New York Times-bestselling author of Eloquent Rage. The event will be preceded by a 12 p.m. virtual masterclass for UNC Asheville students.
- COVID-19 Death Gaps: Understanding How Race and Class Inequities Shape Pandemic Health Outcomes | Thurs., Jan. 28 | 7 p.m. | Virtual | Free | A presentation form Whitney Pirtle, assistant professor of sociology and McArthur Foundation Chair in International Justice and Human Rights at the University of California, Merced.
- Intergalactic Soul Virtual Residency | Mon., Feb. 1-Fri., Feb. 5 | Virtual | Free | A multimedia Afrofuturistic exhibition from visual artist Marcus Kiser + Jason Woodberry and performance artist Quentin Talley. The residency includes talks, a lunch + learn, and an art exhibit and performance that will be released at 6 p.m. on Fri., Feb. 5.