Martin Luther King Jr. Day Opportunities to Volunteer and Celebrate in Philadelphia

Honor the legacy of the civil rights leader with these events and service opportunities.

Martin Luther King, Jr. mural on Lancaster Avenue in West Philly / Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia

In addition to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism and speeches in Washington D.C. and points further south, he did visit Philadelphia many times and had several meaningful connections to the area. In fact, Philly is the birthplace of the MLK Day of Service.

On October 26, 1967 — mere hours before he delivered his “Other America” speech at the then-new Spectrum, part of rousing event that also included Sidney Poitier, Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte and Nipsey Russell — King stopped by a junior high school to ask the children, What is your life’s blueprint?

Also know as the “Streetsweeper” speech, its words today are as impactful as they were 50-something years ago: “Number one in your life’s blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.”

This Monday, January 16th, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the national holiday designated to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader and to continue his work. In Philly at least, MLK Day has sprouted into a whole weekend of events including music, art, readings and more. Here are some of the ways you can get involved in continuing Dr. King’s mission:

Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service
Billed as the largest Dr. King Day event in the nation, the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service offers tons of opportunities to learn, build, clean and help on January 16th in the city and beyond. The very long list of events includes community cleanup, donation drives, and more.
Many of these organizations are always looking for volunteers, not just on Monday.

Bartram’s Garden Neighborhood Cleanup
Rather than devote their day of service to cleaning their historic gardens and farm, Bartram’s is teaming up with AFAHO to do a Southwest Philly neighborhood cleanup. This cleanup will take place just outside of Bartram’s Garden, along Lindbergh Boulevard. Sign up here. 9:30-11:30 a.m., Bartram’s Garden, 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard.

MLK Day @ Eastern State Penitentiary
Every MLK Day, Fairmount’s historic prison hosts lively readings of Dr. King’s famous 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. (“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.”) There will be special readings throughout the day and opportunities to connect with the text. Additionally, there will be family programming from noon to 2 p.m., including hands-on activities and story times featuring children’s books written by and about civil rights movement leaders. Also throughout the day, you can visit activity stations to register to vote or write a postcard to someone currently incarcerated in a Pennsylvania prison. Free, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m., Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Avenue.

MLK Weekend @ Museum of the American Revolution
The museum is celebrating all weekend long with performances, historical re-enactors, hands-on activities, and more. On Saturday afternoon, there will be an hour-long performance by the Philadelphia Jazz Project focusing on King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Throughout the weekend, there will be pop-up talks, discovery carts, costumed historians, and a “community engagement wall” that people can add to in the rotunda. $13-$21 (free for kids age five and under), January 14th-16th, Museum of the American Revolution, 101 South 3rd Street.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center celebrates MLK Day with free admission, music, activities, performances, a school-supplies drive, and more. There will be a number of live performances, including readings of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by local actors and students. There will also be family concerts featuring the interactive children’s music group, Two of a Kind, with composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and educator Rodney Whittenberg playing songs of the civil rights era. Plus: story corner, arts and crafts activities and more. Finally, in the spirit of service, the museum is organizing the donation of books and school supplies for Philadelphia school students. Bonus: Visitors who donate school supplies at the National Constitution Center from January 14th to 16th will receive a ticket for a free carousel ride at Franklin Square Park. Free (pre-register online), 10 a.m.-5 p.m., National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day activities at National Constitution Center / Photograph by Laura Swartz

MLK Day Family Festival @ Woodmere Art Museum
Woodmere’s annual family-focused MLK Day celebration includes art-making, storytelling and performance. From noon to 2 p.m., hands-on projects and storytelling will honor the words and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as other civil rights figures. Then, at 2 p.m., Hip-Hop Fundamentals will lead a dance performance with audience participation and activities to teach kids about the importance of student involvement and non-violent protest in the Civil Rights Movement. Free, noon-3 p.m, Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Avenue.

MLK Day @ Please Touch Museum
Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision through stories, hands-on activities including a collaborative service project, and an interactive birthday celebration.
$19, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Please Touch Museum, 4231 Avenue of the Republic.

Philadelphia Orchestra’s Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Concert
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts this edition of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual MLK Day concert at Girard College, featuring speaker Charlotte Blake Alston. The program includes Samuel Barber’s classic “Adagio for Strings” performed to excerpts from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as other pieces including selections from The Montgomery Variations and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Tickets are free on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s website, but reservations are required because they do sell out. Free, 3 p.m., Girard College Chapel, 2101 South College Avenue.

Uhuru MLK Day Philly
The Uhuru Movement — purveyors of both political literature and quality pre-owned furniture — is offering a program of music, spoken word and historic films. You can also volunteer with an outdoor postering and door-hanging project to spread the word about Uhuru. Free, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles 832 North Broad Street.

MLK/FBI Screening
The Philadelphia Film Society presents Sam Pollard’s documentary examining recently declassified files that reveal the role played by the U.S. government in surveilling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (and his later demise). $10-$14, January 15th, 3 p.m., Philadelphia Film Center, 1412 Chestnut Street.