Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a US national holiday celebrating Dr. King's birthday (January 15) with its observance on the third Monday of January each year. Many honor him by enacting a day of service, some gather for prayer or participate in religious and secular community events, some host grand celebrations, others hold vigils.
This year we celebrate MLK Day amidst a world-wide viral pandemic with fatalities climbing every day, the ongoing pandemic of racism that continues to put the lives of Black people and marginalized communities at physical and psychological risk, political unrest around the world and in our country that has led to the slayings of peaceful demonstrators protesting inequity and injustice, and domestic terrorists attacking truth and democracy and those who endeavor to uphold it. It is impossible to deny that the racism, bias, discrimination and violence against people of color that Dr. King devoted his life to fighting in his generation is rooted in the same underlying systemic racism that continues to threatens our lives today. The threat to social justice is not only about our Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, it is not only about people who are LGBTQIA, Disabled, gender non-conforming, and neurodivergent, it affects every human being as we are all interconnected and the society we create is the society we share, a world we all have to live in together.
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights activist, a community leader, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and a beloved national hero. As a young boy he was raised with "good health, a loving family, and deep faith" during the time of the Great Depression and in the Jim Crow era of the segregated south, and attended college at the age of 15. As a young man he continued his education in seminary school and then went on to study philosophy and theology in graduate school. Dr. King became a pastor and raised a family with his partner Coretta Scott King and dedicated his life's work to civil rights and social justice. From the time he was a boy his lived experiences impacted how he viewed and existed in the world, how he navigated society and relationships, and how he developed his ideas around social justice and his actions for effecting change.
Our young people are witnessing, experiencing, living the historical events that are happening today. As parents, guardians, caregivers, educators, mental health and social practitioners we have the power to positively impact the lives of our young people by having honest conversations about racism, inequity and social injustice. By acknowledging that it exists and that we all play a part in it whether or not we are aware of it is vital. We can start these conversations at a very young age using books, films, art, and music. These creative tools offer opportunities to learn about the history and context of racism in our country, to ask questions and spark conversation about difference, bias, equity and civil rights, to identify racist systems, policies and acts that exist all around us, and to understand how we can work to change them not replicate them.
Here are a couple of resources with some tips on how to get started:
Below are reading lists for books about and by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for all ages:
For more resources on talking to kids about race and racism, the Covid-19 pandemic, and protests and movements visit our resource pages: