Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in western Massachusetts

No matter what kind of activity you choose to do to celebrate MLK Day, it’s important to be sure that your family shares an understanding of the significance of the act. Of course, children will need to know some of the history behind the holiday, but the amount of depth with which they understand it will vary based on their age. In addition to learning about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and accomplishments, try to identify together some of the themes threaded through his work. A discussion of the importance of kindness and gratitude alongside an examination of your family’s role within the community can be especially useful – children will be inspired to find ways to share some of King’s big ideas with those around them. Once your family is inspired, transfer their enthusiasm into accomplishments and further learning!

Next week, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 20th, 2014, presents families with a three-day weekend. Instead of spending your extra day off sleeping in and lazing around the house, highlight the historical significance of the holiday for your family and find a way to make it meaningful. Families can find special events and service opportunities taking place across western Massachusetts, each of which presents students with the chance to learn experientially about the history of oppression in our country, community activism, and the importance of kindness and a commitment to serve others.

Mass Audubon will be hosting the annual Martin Luther King Day of Service at both Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Hampden. Both events will begin with readings of King’s writing about justice and service, and families will learn how to relate his ideas to environmental justice. Afterward, families will be able to do hands-on work to help maintain the sanctuary, such as trail clearing and maintenance, upkeep of buildings, and invasive species removal. The events at both sanctuaries will begin at 9:30am, and will include outdoor work – so dress warmly! Productive participants of all ages are welcome to volunteer at Arcadia, however the work at Laughing Brook is more appropriate for older teens and adults.

Families interested in participating in a community service project that directly serves other community members can participate in the North Berkshire Community Coalition’s MLK Jr. Day of Service in North Adams. Open to teens and adults, the event will include tasks like home insulation and winterizing, painting, knitting, cleaning, and organizing. The event will take place from 9:30am-12:30pm, and includes lunch. Volunteers should meet for the event as Mass College of Liberal Arts’ Church Street Center (61 Main Street, North Adams), but may participate in projects at other locations during the event.

In addition to service learning, families can participate in community-based learning in observation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This year marks the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts’s 30th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration in Northampton, an all-day event that encompasses two exciting learning opportunities. The day begins at 9am with a walking tour of the city’s African American Heritage Trail, which highlights the role of Florence landmarks throughout history (meet at the corner of Park and Pine Streets). In the afternoon, families can attend a convocation honoring Dr. King. Held at Edwards Church (297 Main Street) at 2pm, the event will include storytime, a special performance, and live music from The Nields.

At Old Sturbridge Village, storyteller Tammy Denease will portray Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, a former slave whose freedom-granting case set the precedent for Massachusetts to end slavery during the 1780′s. Additionally, the village will also feature portrayals of 19th century abolitionist Abby Kelley and William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Kids get free admission to the village when they visit with a paying adult, and the village will be offering the usual opportunities to learn about 19th century life in New England in addition to the special holiday learning opportunities. For more information, call 800-733-1830.

To expand your family’s learning at home, visit your local library and look for these titles:

Also check out these service-focused MLK Day lesson plans, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Episode of the Hilltown Family Variety  Show.

[Photo credit: Storyteller Tammy Denease will portray “Mum Bett” at Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations at Old Sturbridge Village on January 20, 2014.  (cc) David Burk]

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