Martin Luther King Jr. Day was made a federal holiday in 1983, and a decade later the federal government designated it an official “national day of service.” Recently, MLK Day has been promoted as “a day on, not a day off.”
On Monday, a wide range of groups and institutions in Chicago will honor America’s most revered civil rights leader by holding opportunities to serve the community, from picking up litter to protesting for community-controlled policing.
Other events will promote study and reflection on King’s fight for racial and economic justice — including his “Campaign to End Slums” in Chicago — and his particular form of nonviolence.
Here are some of the local activities that are planned. Many are virtual due to the pandemic. Most are free, but some require registration.
Chicago History Museum
In January 1966, King brought his civil rights movement to Chicago. The museum will hold a virtual event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. commemorating King’s work in the Windy City. “MLK Day: King in Chicago” will include a virtual tour of places he visited, storytelling and lectures, including a talk about King’s activism in the North Lawndale neighborhood and how it has inspired contemporary activism there. Get in the mood and mindset with a Spotify playlist the museum compiled of songs and speeches in support of and inspired by the civil rights movement.
Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who has been widely credited with helping Joe Biden win the presidential race in Georgia, will speak at the civil rights organization’s virtual event from noon to 1:30 p.m. Abrams will be joined by the chair of Princeton University’s Department of African-American Studies, Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., and others. There will be music by the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Detroit Youth Choir.
Institute for Nonviolence Chicago
The group that works to reduce conflict and shootings in the city will hold online nonviolence training on King’s principles and practices of nonviolence from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. There is a separate session at 10 a.m. on “Building the Beloved Community” — King’s vision for an interconnected community built on love and care for one another.
Art Institute of Chicago
The museum seeks to highlight “the role that art and artists play in social and political transformation.” They are offering virtual live and recorded programs all week, including a performance by young poets from the Rebirth Poetry Ensemble and the performance duo In the Spirit at 5 p.m. Monday. There are also creative projects for families, including at-home art activities based on the quilted portraits of artist Bisa Butler. The museum’s beautiful Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2021 web page includes lots of links to talks, art and performances, plus “resources for taking action for equity and justice, even from your own home.”
Cook County Forest Preserves
The forest preserves system is inviting volunteers to hike and pick up litter at the preserve of their choice. Trash bags and gloves will be provided at the preserves’ six nature centers and at the Dan Ryan Woods Visitor Center, or you can bring your own and head out to clean up any of the preserves. The Forest Preserves has compiled a list of “litter hotspots” that need attention.
My Block, My Hood, My City
The Chicago nonprofit group plans to distribute supplies of coronavirus personal protective equipment (PPE) to more than 2,000 local senior citizens. They’re seeking volunteers to register. Supplies will be provided to volunteers through a drive-thru system, and they’ll make deliveries to needy seniors. They’ll meet at 10 a.m. at the MLK Bridge, 9901 S. Martin Luther King Dr, for a short dedication. The group recently affixed a giant King quote to the bridge: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”
Rise Up! Protest
Black Lives Matter Chicago, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and other community groups and labor unions are holding a march and car caravan from noon to 3 p.m. at the Federal Plaza in the Loop. They are demanding the immediate removal of President Donald Trump and an end to white supremacy. They also want community control of police, something King fought for.
United Way of Greater Chicago
The United Way is hosting a virtual Day of Racial Healing and Service that will honor King by considering the question, “How can Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation repair Chicago communities?” The virtual discussion begins at 8:30 a.m. with Dr. Gail Christopher, director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity and architect of America’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation initiative. It will focus on neighborhood investment. An online service project for families starts at 9:30 a.m.
Linda Lutton covers Chicago neighborhoods for WBEZ. Follow her @lindalutton.
Mark LeBien is an editor for WBEZ. Follow him @marklebien.