Service and Celebration: Where to Spend MLK Day in Philly
Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's legacy with volunteer work and more.
On January 21, we celebrate and reflect on the incredible legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While the kids may be home from school, this is not just any day off: Philly is the birthplace of the MLK Day of Service, and there are lots of ways to observe the holiday, from family festivals to volunteer opportunities all over the city.
If you’d like to seize the opportunity this year to help your kids understand King’s ideas — and the broader concept of helping others in his memory — here are some family-friendly options.
January 21, various locations throughout Philadelphia and suburbs
No matter your neighborhood, age, or physical abilities, there is a service project for you. This very helpful website created for the Philadelphia region’s MLK Day of Service has a comprehensive database of all the service projects in the area, and you can constrain your search to specifically include kid-friendly projects. These take places all over, including various places of worship, community centers, and schools. Projects include everything from neighborhood cleanup to panel discussions to cooking and organizing donations for neighbors in need. Bonus: they also created a free printable MLK Day coloring book for kids!
This charity accepts donations year-round, but holds a special drive each January, with extra pickup spots on the MLK holiday.
January 14 and 19, 10:30—11:30 am
National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut St.
Kids ages 2-6 can take part in an exciting hour of imaginative storytelling, interactive games, and creative crafts focused on the legacy of Dr. King. To go along with the book, create “dream clouds” and practice handprint painting to celebrate this great leader.
January 21, 10 am—5 pm
321 Chestnut St.
The celebration continues at NLM with a day of honoring MLK and explore how everyone can “Live Like A Hero.” Admission is pay-what-you-wish, and includes activities for all ages. Participate in a service project to create encouraging messages and drawings to be distributed to those in need by Cradles to Crayons and Color a Smile. Create your own Liberty Bell craft, or even imagine, write, and record your own “I have a Dream” speech. There will also be self-guided gallery tours, MLK trivia, and more.
African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St.
The theme this year is “Media and Movement,” the relationship between current and historic social justice movements and the news media. The weekend kicks off with a film screening and discussion on Friday night (that’s more geared toward adults), and then the weekend brings a variety of enriching, fun, inspirational family-friendly activities. There’s a full day of family programming on Saturday including an all-ages service project where visitors can create care packages for the homeless; and a Sunday jazz presentation. Monday is even more eventful, with a scavenger hunt, a visit from the Phillie Phanatic, a concert, a re-enactment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Carlo Campbell, and more. The museum’s admission will be reduced to $2 for all guests during MLK Weekend Celebration.
January 19, 11 am—3 pm
The Discovery Center, 3401 Reservoir Drive
This month, The Discovery Center is making its free community day about service and celebration with community clean-up in East Fairmount Park, films celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, and more commemorative activities.
January 21, 1:30 pm
Girard College Chapel, 2101 S. College Ave.
This free 90-minute concert combines the traditions of African-American culture and Western classical music. The program includes Samuel Barber’s classic “Adagio for Strings” performed to excerpts from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by speaker Charlotte Blake Alston, as well as other uplifting pieces. Free tickets are live on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s website, so don’t miss out! If you can’t make the show, you can listen to the live radio broadcast on WRTI (90.1 FM or wrti.org).
January 21, 1—3 pm
Independence Seaport Museum, 211 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard
Join Independence Seaport Museum, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, and United by Blue for a day full of service and fun as volunteers and staffers will clean up portions of Christopher Columbus Boulevard. As a thank-you for participating, enjoy full-day access to the museum, snacks and drinks prior to the cleanup starting, and discounted pricing to skate at Blue Cross RiverRink. Registration is required for participation.
January 19, 11:30 am — January 21, 5 pm
Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Ave.
Eastern State Penitentiary commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail with special readings and opportunities to connect with the text. There will be readings three times a day performed by actors, youth readers, and community leaders all three days of the long weekend. On Monday, January 21, children (ages 7-12) and their families can create art in response to themes found in the letter. Activities are free and open to the public.
January 21, 9 am — 5 pm
Please Touch Museum, 4231 Avenue of the Republic
Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision through a day of art, storytelling, and more. All day, parts of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic speech will be playing on the big screen downstairs in Centennial Depot.
January 19—21 (performance on January 19, 3 pm)
101 S. Third St.
Throughout the museum, learn the untold stories of community and African-American revolutionaries who helped fight for our country’s independence. On Saturday at 3 pm, vocalists and musicians from the Philadelphia Jazz Project will present We Shall: A Lyrical MLK Celebration, which combines spoken word (including excerpts from King’s speeches and sermons), singing, and instrumental music to pay tribute.
January 21, 10 am—noon
8480 Hagy’s Mill Road
Work together as a family to provide service to our community, helping each other to restore our environment and maintain the space we share. This gathering includes past and current Nature Preschool families, with adult and child-centered service projects and classroom and trail activities throughout the morning. Register online.
January 21, 10 am –3 pm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The art museum is usually closed on Mondays, but on MLK Day it’s not just open but is offering Pay What You Wish admission for the day. Kids can create art in the Great Stair Hall that will be delivered along with nourishing meals to those in need by MANNA.
January 21, noon — 4 pm
Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave.
This free event offers activities for kids, including storytelling, art making, music, and performances. Families are invited to draw inspiration from Dr. King’s themes, words, and activism to write letters to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. They’ll also hear stories of many others who fought for freedom and equality, like Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Ruby Bridges; and then create an art project commemorating them. At 2:30 pm, join professional dancer and storyteller Nia Eubanks-Dixon in an interactive performance of storytelling dance, theatre, and dialogue.
January 21, 9:30 am—3 pm
National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St.
The National Constitution Center has a full day of community service projects, special performances, and fun for the whole family; along with special $5 admission to the museum. Special storytimes will take place in the Grand Hall Lobby, along with an all-day craft center where kids can create “I Have a Dream” mobiles. There will also be a number of live performances, including a passionate reading of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech performed by local actors and students. In the spirit of service, the museum is organizing the donation of books and school supplies for Philadelphia school students. Visitors will be invited to help museum staff and Alex Holley of FOX 29 to sort the supplies to deliver to classrooms throughout the city.
January 21, 10 am — 5 pm
101 South Independence Mall East
Honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a day filled with family-friendly performances and arts and crafts activities, spotlight talks about social justice, and more.
January 21, 11 am—4 pm
The Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St.
Celebrate the life and legacy of MLK at the Franklin Institute with a community service project to collect and distribute much-needed school supplies to students and teachers across the Philadelphia School District. Expanded programming and additional live science shows are also part of the day. See the event listing for suggested school supplies.
January 21, 11 am
Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center, corner of 47th and Aspen streets
As part of activities that will take place throughout the day with the People’s Emergency Center, join this read-aloud of Jewell Parker Rhodes’ powerful book, Ghost Boys, and an art activity based on messages of nonviolence and social justice.
January 21, 10 am—12:30 pm
University of Pennsylvania, Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce St.
Kids can help students, alumni, and other community members in service projects like putting together and personalizing kindness bags of toiletries for women’s shelters, painting commemorative banners, listening to stories and songs about Dr. King’s life, and creating gifts that will be donated to those in need in the West Philadelphia area.
January 21, 3—5 pm
Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St.
Personal Statment is a documentary film about three inspirational high school seniors who are determined to get their entire classes to college, even though they aren’t sure they’re going to make it there themselves. The film will be followed by a powerful discussion with student organizers and school counselors from the School District of Philadelphia. The screening is free, but you must register to reserve a seat.
Looking for MLK Day-Off Camps? Here’s our rundown!
Lead photograph by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia.