Why you should change out of your onesie on MLK, Jr. Day

by gabbybates

Yes, sleeping in is great. So are three-day weekend trips to the lake, America’s Next Top Model marathons, and the ability to alternate between checking Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram on an endless loop without ever changing out of the red onesie your mom got you for Christmas. All these things are great, but Martin Luther King, Jr. Day shouldn’t be (entirely) about that. 

Growing up, MLK Jr day wasn’t presented to me as a day off of school; it was presented as an opportunity to go out into the community and do something. There are TONS of public service opportunities organized for that day (by United Way, local churches, etc.) and all you have to do is sign up to join or show up to help out. Sure, I grumbled some when I was fifteen and my dad got me up early on my day off, but when I look back now at, say, the MLK Jr Day I spent painting the walls of an inner-city school, I’m so proud of that. I’m more proud of that than my GPA, ACT score, and Who’s Who award combined.

I always thought, as a kid, that everyone approached Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in this way, but as I get older, I realize that not everyone was lucky enough to have a dad like mine.


This morning I looked up MLK Jr events in Seattle, and I saw that there was an event at Mt. Zion Baptist Church at noon. Michele Norris (Yes, THE Michele Norris aka Voice on All Things Considered) would be the keynote speaker, and it was a no-brainer. 


It was the most diverse crowd I’d ever been a part of, and one of the sweetest experiences of my life.

Everyone looked so happy. The Greater Works Chorale sang (AMAZING, by the way), and a group of children and adults took turns reading “Race Cards,” 6 word sentences about how they felt about race. Then a scholarship was awarded to a man who used to be a gang member and an alcoholic (cue the tears). He is now a single father, sober 10 years and pursuing a degree in social work and developmental disorders. He stood up there in the nicest suit, and we gave him a standing ovation that almost brought the roof down.


And Michele Norris was as wonderful as I’d expected her to be. Funny, thoughtful, challenging. She talked about her own family’s reluctance to talk about race and how it had shaped their experience in America. She invited all of us to engage in conversations about race, to write our own 6-word race cards.

The event ended with everyone holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” together (I know, right? Cheesy as all get out). But it was awesome. All I could think about was how unheard of something like that would have been fifty or sixty years ago: a 20 year old white girl holding hands with two black men, them holding hands with a Chinese woman, an Indian man, a teenager wearing a hijab…

We still have a long way to go here in America when it comes to race. (All you have to do is listen to some people’s stories to know that). But events like this always leave me with the most positive sense of hope. If we actively pursue equality, we will keep getting closer to it.

So I encourage you: Enjoy your day off of work or school, but try to spend at least part of Monday doing an act of service Dr. King would be proud of. At least watch the “I Have A Dream” Speech in its entirety on Youtube, or read a sermon of his. I promise, you won’t regret it.