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 20, 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 20, 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.
African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St.
The weekend kicks off on Friday night with a reading with poet and educator Kirwyn Sutherland from his newly released book of poetry Jump Ship (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 families in our city, and learn more about the Civil Rights Movement through stories, arts and crafts; 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 18, 11 am
1700 S. Broad St.
A Martin Luther King Day storytime for children and their parents, followed by a craft and an opportunity to help pack hygiene kits for those in need. Hygiene kit donations are welcome.
January 18, 11 am
Wynnefield Library, 5325 Overbrook Ave.
Sisters Interacting Through Stitches and the Wynnefield Branch Library will host their 12th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Event. Crochet, knit, and collect scarves for Operation Gratitude, and Personal, Period, purses for local schools, libraries and recreation centers. In addition, the group will engage in conversations regarding ‘Women of Color, and their struggle for the Right to Vote: from Sojourner Truth to Stacey Abrams.’ All are welcome.
January 20, 4 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 18— 20
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 20, 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 19, 11 am–5 pm
4231 Avenue of the Republic
Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision through stories, songs, and more. Plus, enjoy free admission all day!
January 18—20 (performance on January 18, 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 20, 10 am—noon
8480 Hagy’s Mill Road
Community members as well as Nature Preschool families past and present are invited to work on service projects aimed at protecting the health of our forests, fields, and meadows. There will be both child-centered and adult service projects available. Registration appreciated.
January 20, 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. Take part in conversations, gallery tours, teach-ins, and an all-ages drop-in making activity with Tiny WPA on this Martin Luther King Day of Service.
January 20, 11 am–3 pm
321 Chestnut St.
Celebrate MLK Day by giving back to others! Create a fun craft in support of Enchanted Makeovers, an organization that nurtures women and children living in homeless shelters through various projects, programs, and makeovers that help improve their outlook for the future. Make “hero capes” for children in these shelters to let them know they can be their own superhero. You’ll create a cape from start to finish with the help of Museum Educators. Admission on MLK Day is “Pay What You Wish.”
January 20, noon — 4 pm
Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave.
Listen to stories of Civil Rights and the never-before-told narrative about Dr. King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech with artist Jerry Pinkney’s newest publication, A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and a Speech that Changed a Nation. The author will be present to join the festivities. At 2:30 pm, Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble celebrates the legacy of Dr. King and others with a concert and sing-along of songs sung during the Civil Rights Movement, such as “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Down by the Riverside,” “We Shall Overcome,” and more.
January 20, 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.
January 20, 10 am — 3 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 20, 10 am
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, and creating gifts that will be donated to those in need in the West Philadelphia area.
January 20, 10 am–5 pm
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Learn more about the environment we inhabit and the community in which we live as we imagine the equitable, just world that he envisioned. Events include experiments to learn how cities are affected by climate change and pollution, and brainstorm simple, effective ways to reduce your impact on the environment.
Lead photograph by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia.