5 ways to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is around the corner, which is a great opportunity for students to learn more about King’s life and legacy. Questions are bound to arise — questions about community, equity, service, and activism (to name just a few). Along is here to help teachers and students connect over these questions and the importance of the holiday.

To get the conversation going, the team at Along put together five suggestions for ways to honor MLK Day — inspired by the words of Coretta Scott King.

“The holiday must be substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a day of celebration . . . Let this holiday be a day of reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action for social and economic progress.” – Coretta Scott King

In that spirit, take a look at our suggestions below. Feel free to pick one or all five, to try them out in the days leading up to the holiday or the week (or month) after. See what works best for your students and find the right way for your class to honor King’s work.

#1: Bring history to life.

First and foremost, students need a foundation for understanding King’s impact. So take the opportunity to fill in the gaps of what’s already been taught. You can use videos and features from the PBS Black Culture Connection to provide greater context and understanding. Or you can explore further with this New York Times Collection on Martin Luther King Jr. You can even encourage community service on MLK Day as a way to transform words into actions.

#2: Reflect on King’s words.

Another way to honor King is to share his five most memorable speeches. Leave time for students to explore their impressions — they can discuss in small groups or journal what they found moving or memorable. This reflection can continue outside the classroom as well. Follow up with a reflection question in Along on themes from the speeches and give students an opportunity to consider these topics on their own time.

#3: Take a virtual tour.

Put the text book aside! Take students on a tour of the most important places in Civil Rights history. The Civil Rights Trail offers virtual tours, videos, and then/now photos of places such as the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Little Rock Central High School National Historical Site. Or, you can bring the class on a virtual tour of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. This is an effective way to put students in the moment and to show that the past isn’t so long ago.

#4: View a Beloved Community Talk

Another option for honoring King is to take a look at the The King Center and its Beloved Community Talks; conversations designed for “bringing people out of their comfort zone and together for the common good of community.” Find and share a portion of a talk that emphasizes the themes your class is focusing on. You can also continue the conversation in Along with the following reflection question:

Think of a time you had a different view on something than your peer. What questions would you ask to understand their view? 

This gets students thinking about the importance of trying to understand another’s point of view. It’s a lesson that extends far beyond MLK Day and will serve students well on their education journey.

#5: Check in on what students think.

Focusing on Martin Luther King Jr. is sure to get students reflecting about all sorts of topics: bias, civil rights, non-violent protests, unity, the list goes on. These are not easy subjects and deserve follow-up. Explore the Along Content Library and find reflection questions, classroom activities, and teacher resources that echo the topics from MLK Day. These resources keep the conversations going beyond the holiday itself and give students the space to work through their thoughts.

Whether you and your class focus on history, community service, or seeing another’s point of view, MLK Day provides a way to reflect on community, justice, the past, and the present. We hope the holiday leads your class to have inspiring conversations and paves the way for deep reflection and curiosity.