How to celebrate MLK Day in your team
Know the history and meaning behind MLK Day
Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day is celebrated every year on the third Monday in January.
President Ronald Reagan signed a bill on November 2, 1983, creating a federal holiday in Dr. King’s honor. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed as a national holiday on January 20, 1986.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
This national observation of the civil rights leader who was assassinated on April 4, 1968, is the only federal holiday designated as a day of service. It’s one where we are all encouraged to give back to our communities.
Although under 40 percent of major corporations include MLK Day as one of their paid holidays during the year, many, like ours, use it as a floating holiday and encourage employees to use the day to give back to the community through service.
What to do before MLK Day
Learn more about Martin Luther King Jr’s role in the civil rights movement, MLK Day, its history, and its present-day manifestation. Learn his views by reading his words.
Start a dialogue with your team by sending an email 2-3 days before
- Encourage attendance and show support for our company’s MLK celebrations, service projects, and events.
- Model curiosity by sharing your top 3 reflections on what you’ve learned about MLK Day.
- Acknowledge that racism, bias, and inequalities still exist.
- Share opportunities for civil rights advocacy and volunteering.
- Here is an example email to send to your entire team:
Martin Luther King Jr Day is approaching on January 18th.
In celebration of his life and the legacy of his work advancing the civil rights of all Americans, I want to highlight opportunities we have at our organization to work for racial justice, serve our communities, and advocate for others.
- [INSERT LINK TO ERGs, COMPANY EVENTS, VOLUNTEERING PROGRAMS, ETC]
Let’s follow Dr. King’s example by demonstrating the change committed individuals can make when working towards good. After all, the motto of MLK Day is “a day on, not a day off.”
Please feel free to share any articles or information about MLK Day or volunteering opportunities that you find interesting or inspiring. This is also a day to celebrate our diversity - I’m curious to hear about your experiences and I know there is so much more to learn.
Personally, I plan to attend the MLK Day events and sign up for our day of service. I encourage all of you to join as well.
Plan to attend company-sponsored MLK Day events. Block time out on your calendar to reserve the day/time.
Make an impact
Volunteer your time as an act of service.
Research local community Day of Service activities.
Organize a drive: Contact your local food bank, animal shelter, or organizations that empower low-income and homeless populations to find out what they need. Then encourage your team and peers to donate those items and deliver them to the charity.
What to do on MLK Day
Send an email to your team that highlights your personal commitment to equity
Here is an example:
Hi Team -
Today is MLK Day. I have been reflecting on what this day signifies and my role as your manager in promoting diversity and equity across our team. We each bring our own experiences and backgrounds to our work and more than anything, celebrations like today’s bring awareness to my blind spots in experiences besides my own.
It also reminds us that discrimination and bias still exist. I’m committed to understanding each of your experiences and want to provide a safe space to do that.
We can have this conversation any day, but today may bring up ideas or feedback that people may especially want to share now. I’m always willing to chat and I appreciate your perspective and feedback.
Ways to support MLK Day year-round
Evaluate fairly and promote equally
Be an ally and advocate who elevates diverse voices. For example, if you notice colleagues who are continually being interrupted, interject and say you’d like to hear them finish.
Practice empathy and compassion
- Understand that every single individual’s journey is different and should be treated with respect and care. Show empathy and compassion when others share vulnerable moments or stories.
- Create space for difficult conversations about race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.
Encourage everyone on your team to have a mentor
It’s important to make sure your employees have access to mentors and senior leadership. Employees who have access to mentorship and senior leaders are more likely to stay at their company and aspire to be a senior leader themselves. Ask about mentorship at your next 1-1 and offer to help by suggesting or reaching out to potential mentors.
Find ways to celebrate diversity and service year-round
- Whether it be through company-wide heritage month celebrations, marching in a Pride parade, or joining an ERG, find ways to learn about your colleagues and explore your own identity and how it plays a role in your work life.
- Carve out team volunteer days or afternoons, organize a food or donation drive. Find virtual volunteer opportunities through organizations like DoSomething , VolunteerMatch or AllforGood .
- Call out small acts of service that you see - it may be a helping hand, an offer to cover for a sick coworker - however small the gesture, these acts of service go a long way towards building community and shared responsibility for taking care of each other.