Service and Celebration: How to Spend MLK Day in Philly (and Online)
Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's legacy with volunteer work and more.
On January 18, we celebrate and reflect on the incredible legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While the kids may not have 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 virtual celebrations to volunteer opportunities.
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.
Various locations throughout Philadelphia and online
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 place all over, including online and at home this year. Projects include everything from panel discussions to organizing donations for neighbors in need. Bonus: they also created a free printable MLK Day coloring book for kids!
January 13, 1 pm
Kids in grades 4 and 5 are invited for a virtual storytime hosted by Global Philadelphia Association. Hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech, read from a book with beautiful illustrations, and take a virtual tour of the Johnson House to learn all about the people who fought for racial justice in Philadelphia in this Underground Railroad Station and House Museum. Free; pre-register online.
The African American Museum in Philadelphia and Citizens Bank invites audiences for a full weekend of enriching, fun, inspirational, family-friendly activities celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year’s celebration includes MLK Morning programming for youth and family, virtual museum tours, and more. Be sure to tune in on Monday morning at 10 am for a dramatic reading of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” by Carlo Campbell. All MLK Weekend Celebration programs are free and open to the public.
NLM hosts a full weekend of family-fun virtual programs—complete with Drag Queen Storytime, an art demonstration, and even a call to action—to honor the life, memory, and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. All activities are all free; registration is required for some activities.
January 16—18 (online performance on January 18)
101 South Third Street (and Virtual)
Join the Museum of the American Revolution in-person and online all weekend to discover the ongoing legacy of the Revolution and learn what it takes to change the world, highlighted by a performance by the Philadelphia Jazz Project on Monday, January 18. Join vocalists and musicians from the PhiladelphiaJazz Project on the Museum’s YouTube channel for a free virtual concert, featuring highlights from their previous performances at the Museum and interviews with special guests. The performance, inspired by excerpts from King’s speeches and sermons, will intermingle spoken word, gospel, jazz, and blues to pay tribute to his life’s work to advance civil rights for all.
On Saturday, January 16, the museum honors Ona Judge, a woman who was enslaved in George and Martha Washington’s household in Philadelphia and later escaped. Online, take a virtual walking tour to explore her story. At the museum, a contactless Discovery Cart will let you explore objects from her story. Continuously through the weekend, take a deeper dive into untold stories of the Revolution with the Museum’s new Finding Freedom digital interactive, which explores the stories of enslaved people of African descent who followed different paths to freedom during the Revolutionary War.
January 17, noon
Join the Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey for a fun time creating cards and writing letters for those affected by COVID-19. The workshop will include guided instruction, and the cards and letters will be donated to The African American Museum in Philadelphia and other partners. Pre-register online for the Zoom link, which will be emailed prior to the start of the event.
January 18, all day
Global Citizen, in partnership with the Read by 4th Campaign, is seeking videos of volunteers reading their favorite children’s books, especially books with the themes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civic engagement, and civil rights. The stories will be available on YouTube and shared with families. See link for instructions and registration.
January 18, 10 am-3 pm
Choose a site, get the supplies, deliver the goods, and post a selfie using #UPennMLK from 10 am to 3 pm at sites around the city. See link for suggested sites and requested items.
January 18, 10 am
Community members, as well as Nature Preschool families past and present, are invited to gather on Zoom (pre-register for the link) for words of support and community, and to honor MLK’s legacy, before setting off on service projects in their neighborhoods. The Schuylkill Center gives suggestions of ways you can help your environment and community, from picking up litter to writing representatives, here.
January 18, 10 am
Join Germantown Deaf Ministries on Zoom to learn basic Sign Language and use your ABCs to sign a song of peace and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Each mini lesson is about 10-15 minutes long. All students may return at noon to sign the song together. Free; pre-register online.
January 18, 10:30 am
Artfully express your goals and dreams in this multimedia workshop that celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The University of Pennsylvania will host art instruction online to decorate Dr. King’s downloadable image using paint, markers, crayons, magazines, glue, beans, recycled materials, and whatever else you have at home! Free; pre-register online.
January 18, 11 am—3 pm
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. Engage in special virtual readings from the landmark text – led by students, educators, activists, and community members – and respond to its relevance today. Between each session, special guests will provide space for reflection and connection as they share music, poetry, and art. The event is comprised of six 30-minute, back-to-back sessions, so feel free to participate in just one session or tune in for all six.
Week of January 18
Students in middle school and high school can sign up for free, live virtual classes on the civil rights movement on January 18 and 20. Additionally, online resources like a Civics in Literature lesson and “I Have a Dream” Mobiles for all ages are free on the Constitution Center’s website.
January 18, 3 pm
Woodmere and members of the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble present a free family program via Zoom celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Explore the story behind Harriet Tubman’s journey to freedom and the legacy of Dr. King through musical narratives, the art of Jerry Pinkney, and interactive fun activities for children and families. Free; pre-register online.
January 18, 7 pm
As part of the Our City, Your Orchestra series, the program led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., through music and interviews with prominent Philadelphians who are continuing Dr. King’s work today. Free; RSVP online.
Lead photograph by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia.