Westerly Sun Column | Honoring Dr. King Through Service

January 16, 2024

You may already know that the library is closed today in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but how much do you really know about this holiday, and the man who we are celebrating? Did you know, for example, that MLK Day is the only federal holiday that is also a designated Day of Service? For that matter, do you know what a “Day of Service” really is? If you are home today, it is a great opportunity to learn a bit more.

The holiday is always celebrated on the third Monday in January, and this year it happens to fall on King’s true birthday: Jan. 15. A prolific leader in the civil rights movement, King was a proponent of social justice and equity. Tragically, and in spite of his commitment to nonviolence, King was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39. Though bills were introduced to Congress that same year to make a holiday in honor of Dr. King, it was not officially recognized in all 50 states until the year 2000.

Today, the holiday serves not just to honor the legacy of King, but also as a call to public service, encouraging people to spend time volunteering and working to improve their communities. This can look different for different people, though. It could mean spending the day assisting at a local nonprofit, or participating in an organized event like a community cleanup. This may not be feasible for all — you may have kids to take care of, or a job that requires you to work the holiday — but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still honor Martin Luther King Jr. and serve your community in another way. If you have the means, make a monetary donation to a cause that speaks to you. You can donate non-perishable food or unused personal care items to those in need, or look through your own closet for gently used coats and clothing that you may not need. There are many ways to give, and all of them make a difference.

Another way to honor Martin Luther King Jr. is to learn more about his life and teachings, and to listen in on or engage in current conversations around anti-racism and social justice work. There are numerous books available at the library (and online, while we’re closed!), such as “King: A Life” by Jonathan Eig (2023), an extensively researched and engaging biography. If you are able, I highly encourage you to visit the library tomorrow from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. for “An Evening with Martin Luther King Jr”. Organized by the Westerly Area Peace and Justice Group, Westerly ARC (Antiracism Coalition), and the Rotary Club of Westerly, this event will honor Dr. King with a selection of readings from his works, followed by meaningful, small group discussions. It is sure to be a fantastic program, and a wonderful way to honor a very important figure in history.

by Cassie Skobrak, Adult Services Librarian

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