Martin Luther King Jr. Day is now well-known as a day to honor the legacy of the famed civil rights leader with acts of community service and perhaps a day off of work. It is, however, a relatively recent holiday: It was not federally observed until 1986, and some states didn’t fully recognize the day until 2000.
(And it turns out that process inspired some now-classic music: Did you know that Stevie Wonder’s song “Happy Birthday” was written to advocate for the official recognition of King’s birthday as a public holiday?)
If you’re looking to make a difference in your community as a way to commemorate King, reach out to your local nonprofits or click over to our guide to ways to give back locally. And to engage even more, consider checking out one of these local sights and events.
Visit the Embrace sculpture on Boston Common, Boston
Unveiled a year ago, this large bronze sculpture by artist Hank Willis Thomas depicts two sets of arms embracing. The design was inspired by a photograph of King and his wife Coretta Scott King embracing, the artwork aims to reflect the values of history, community, and diversity as championed by King himself. After contemplating the sculpture, take in one of the many events scheduled for the holiday in Boston, like free museum admission at many institutions or a tribute concert by the Boston Children’s Chorus at Symphony Hall.
NAACP North Shore Branch Day of Service, Beverly Public Library
To honor King, the North Shore branch of the NAACP will be collecting new, unopened toiletries at the Beverly Public Library, then delivering them to Lynn nonprofit community services organization Centerboard. Stop by between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. to make a donation. Details available at facebook.com/events/725070882928002.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem
The Peabody Essex Museum is commemorating King’s legacy with a day of art and learning. Admission will be free all day, and visitors are encouraged to discover Salem’s 19th-century fight for integrated public schools, immerse themselves in the sounds and images of artist Bethany Collins’ American, a Hymnal exhibit, and try some hands-on art creation with visiting artist Rahim Gray. Learn more at pem.org/events/dr-martin-luther-king-jr-day-celebration.
Community reading of “A Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Gloucester Stage Co., Gloucester
More than 10 community members will work together to read King’s historic letter, a call for moral clarity and action. Presented by the Gloucester Writers Center, the event is free of charge, but reservations and donations are encouraged. Details and tickets available at gloucesterstage.com/upcoming-events.
Conversation and music at the Gloucester Meetinghouse, Gloucester
Boston Globe columnist and associate editor Renée Graham will be offering a keynote address and sharing a conversation with Michea McCaffery, Chair of the Gloucester Racial Justice Team. The event ends with a performance by renowned vocal artist Gordon Michaels, joined by a small ensemble, presenting music based upon the Black experience, and an chance to listen to an audio recording of King in a darkened room. More details available at gloucestermeetinghouse.org/event/2024-01-15-mlk-day-celebration.
Salem State University MLK Celebration and Awards, Salem
This day-long event will explore the theme of “Shifting the Cultural Climate Through Kingian Nonviolence.” The program includes a keynote speech by Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of civil rights activist Malcolm X and an award-winning author, educator, and producer, as well as a luncheon, awards presentation, and a vigil and march. Full details are available at salemstate.edu/calendar/34th-annual-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-campus-celebration-jan-22-2024.