A Day On and Not a Day Off

6 events to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.

During my years as a classroom teacher, I always found that coming back after Winter break was one of the hardest times of the year. Mind and body are still catching up with the fact that it’s time to go back to work. And so are your students’! Therefore, this post is meant to make that transition a little easier, by providing you with 6 fun activities around Martin Luther King Jr. Day. You can try them with your students and buy some time to get yourself ready for the second half of the year.

Let’s start with some background. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first made into a holiday on 1983 by President Reagan. Later on, in 1994, Congress transformed it into a national day of community service, to further honor and commemorate the ideas and values Dr. King personified.

For us as teachers, January 15, 2018 is a great opportunity to have our students learn more about a man who lived his life in service to others, as well as bring key ideas from the Civil Rights Movement into our classroom. It’s the chance to revisit the vision Dr. King brought to our lives, as well as reflect on the progress we’ve made as a community in terms of freedom, opportunity, and justice for all.

So how can you do this? We have 6 suggestions of activities around DC you can participate in with your students and bring experiential learning to your classroom.

1. Set a New Class Resolution

It’s the new year, so why not set a class resolution inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Visit the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his world famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Gather your students and play the speech as they draw or take notes on their reactions. Click here for an original copy and audio. You could do this in your classroom, but there’s something very powerful about being on those steps, at the very spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood during The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, addressing a crowd that extended all the way to the Washington Monument.

Once you’re back in the classroom, you can reflect on the themes that came up, brainstorm together, and decide on one resolution you’re all willing to try. As with any resolution, make sure you phrase it as a SMART goal, so you’re more likely to stick to it. Don’t forget to share your goal with us on social media!

2. Reflect on our civil rights through art

Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and engage in some photography and sketching. Have your students sketch Dr. King’s statue as they think about the words Mountain of Despair and Stone of Hope. Is there evidence in the statue that would help understand why the sculptor used these words to name this art piece? Then have students consider this: the sculptor also wanted to communicate that Dr. King’s life and work were cut short. Can they find any evidence of this unfinished business in the statue? What makes them say so?

Finally, prompt your students to walk around the wall of quotes as they read them. Have them select the one that speaks most to them and take a selfie in front. Back in the classroom, students can make a composite image using the quote, their picture and their sketch of the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. Sketching and photographing are great ways to get students to slow down, look closely, and think deeply. We’d love to hear how your art exploration and reflections went!

3. Walk for peace at the MLK Holiday Celebration

You and your students can help strengthen your community and bridge barriers by taking part in the MLK Holiday Celebration. The event this year has four different components: a prayer breakfast, a peace walk, a parade, and a festival/health fair. Click here for more details on all events.

Start by opening a safe space for student questions and reflections on why it’s important to engage in community walks and parades, and to stay active in your community. Then decide on a message you’d like to bring to your community, print it on shirts or create posters you can carry that day. We’d love to see your messages and pictures!

4. Stay “WOKE” in service of the Dream

It will be 50 years after Dr. King preached on “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” during his final Sunday sermon, at the Washington National Cathedral. This year you can attend Awake in Motion: Celebrating 50 years of MLK. During this night of performances, excerpts of the sermon will be echoed in song, prayer, movement and dance, by Children of the Gospel, Howard University Choir, and the Washington National Cathedral house band, among others. In preparation, read the sermon with your students and start the discussion on how you can stay active and keep Dr. King’s message alive. Don’t forget to share with us how you and your students plan to stay “woke”!

This event is scheduled for Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 4 pm. Click here for more details.

5. Celebrate with a concert

Every Year, The Kennedy Center hosts a concert that serves as a musical tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, in partnership with George Washington University, their Let Freedom Ring! program will feature Vanessa Williams and the Let Freedom Ring Choir. It is a free event, though same day tickets are required. This event is a great possibility for students to experience how music can serve as a vehicle to bring a community together in celebration of great ideas.

This event is scheduled for Monday, January 15, 2018 at 6 pm. Click here for more info and how to get the free tickets.

6. Adopt a service project

Maybe part of your resolution for this year is to give back to the community, or maybe you just want to get your students’ socioemotional skills on a roll with community based projects. You can adopt a service project or create your own with Serve DC. Click here to learn more about the different possibilities. If you go the creation route, a good starting point can be to identify a need in your community, identify different stakeholders, and then brainstorm ways in which your students can contribute to solving the problem. You can get more project planning ideas through Serve DC’s site. Don’t forget to keep us updated on your project!

One comment

  1. Such good ideas- I live in DC and teach in public schools, and appreciate the local nature of your activity ideas. Looking forward to more posts!

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