Written by: Andrea Dunn and Miracle Gladney from Alera Group

Many of us consider Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) to be a leader in the movement to end racial segregation in the United States, and a hero in the fight for civil rights for black and brown citizens during the 1950s and 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged, and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest.  

MLK Day is a time of reflection and acknowledgment of shifting moments in history, including the “I Have a Dream” speech, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the 1963 March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. This day holds space to celebrate MLK’s life and legacy, along with the fight for freedom and justice. MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a “National Day of Service” – encouraging individuals to celebrate his legacy by volunteering and/or participating in local community programs and outreach. 

Dr. King’s widow Coretta Scott King so eloquently defined this holiday by stating, 

“This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.” 

Although King was killed more than fifty years ago, it took years for Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day) to be declared and then recognized as an official holiday. MLK Day was first signed into law in 1983 but was only observed three years later. Still, many states resisted observing the holiday, giving it different names, or combining it with other holidays. A petition only needs 150 signatures to be searchable within the White House database, and to cross the second threshold and require a response, a petition must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days. Six million signatures were collected in a petition to Congress to pass the law, making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday. Stevie Wonder helped to achieve this feat by releasing his iconic single, “Happy Birthday,” raising awareness of the fact that there should be a day commemorating Dr. King’s life and questioning why those in authority would not support the urge to celebrate someone who fought for peace and justice. In 2000, MLK Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time. While this is a special day for black and brown people, it is celebrated by all people across the world! 

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday honors the life and legacy of a man who brought promise and healing to America. Dr. King is famous for his principles and practices of non-violence that he mastered, practiced, and taught. He used these principles to destroy injustice during the hostile Jim Crow era of the south which demeaned the value, dignity, and humanity of black American citizens. Dr. King’s non-violent stance against inequality and injustice dignified his advancements toward inclusion, equality, freedom, and justice for all. As a result of his approach and the magnitude of his reach, black Americans experienced positive change within legal, educational, and transportation systems, including the right to fair and equitable employment. For this, we observe his life, his service, and his work. 

Excerpt from A letter from the Birmingham Jail written by Dr. Marin Luther King Jr., April 16th, 1963:  

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  

MLK Day is now an Alera Group holiday, and many offices also further MLK’s message and spirit by providing colleagues with volunteer opportunities. As an example, TRUEbenefits spends a day in community service as a team. In the United States people spend an average of 52 hours a year in volunteer service. Giving colleagues the opportunity to volunteer individually or in a team setting drives employee engagement, and provides vital support to local communities.  

Ways to Support MLK Day 

We invite you to take this day (and week!) to reflect on the impact Dr. King made, take the time to share your favorite MLK quote in the comments below, learn about Dr. King’s Fundamental Philosophy of Nonviolence or share what you did to celebrate this special day. For those with children, consider taking 15 minutes to talk to them about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (here’s a great conversation starter from Parents).  You might also:  

  • Spend the day volunteering; 
  • Read a book on King’s legacy or review the additional resources below; 
  • Listen to King’s speeches, such as his I Have a Dream speech
  • Watch MLK documentaries;  
  • Or teach your kids about MLK. 

Additional Resources 

Written by: Andrea Dunn and Miracle Gladney