Blog Post

MLK Day: Not Just One Day. Every Day.

By Jennifer London
January 10, 2017
MK class=
MLK Day of Service
Corporation for National and Community Service

UPDATED January 2018

Martin Luther King Day is celebrated every January. As we reflect on a tumultuous year here in the U.S. and around the globe, it is a good time to think about how we can honor Dr. King’s legacy not only on his day, but all year round.

MLK Day: “Make it a Day On, Not a Day Off.”

Martin Luther King Day, celebrated annually on the third Monday of the month of January, is the only federal holiday designated as a day of service. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Although under 40 percent of major corporations include MLK Day as one of their paid holidays during the year, many include it as a floating holiday and encourage their employees to use the day to give back to the community through service. Others organize company-wide service projects on MLK Day often organized by the company’s Employee Resource Groups.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that helps millions of Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service, in concert with the King Center, promotes and supports MLK Day of Service and has many resources for organizations and individuals looking to “make it a day on, not a day off.” The site includes a list of events throughout the country, social media and communications toolkits, educational materials and much more.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also organizes a day of service on MLK Day focused on supporting LGBTQ homeless youth. Individuals and organizations can search for volunteer and donation opportunities by region to get involved.

Not just one day. Every day.

To encourage employees to give back to the community year round companies like Intel, for instance, award matching grants to organizations where Intel employees have volunteered. After a minimum of 20 hours has been accrued by Intel employees volunteering at a school or qualified non profit organization, a donation or “match” of $10 per hour volunteered will be donated from the Intel Foundation.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can have an incredible impact on their communities throughout the year and many have made this one of their top priorities. Companies like American Airlines and Capgemini have created ERGs centered on philanthropy and service. In 2015, Capgemini’s CARES ERG had overall community engagement results of 1,818 employees reached, 8445 hours donated, and over $200,000 donated to 70 unique charities.

Toyota’s Technical Center African American Collaborative mobilized its local chapter in Michigan to respond swiftly to the Flint Water Crisis. The TTC-AAC BRG successfully mobilized a water donation drive that provided more than 500 cases and containers of water to a local community center to be distributed to the citizens of Flint. The monetary donations directed to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund provide ongoing care to the Flint children who have been exposed to the lead contaminated water and who will require long-term attention in order to have healthy and successful lives.

Women’s ERGs like the ones at PG&E and Capital One have developed programs and scholarships to encourage and support girls and young women to explore STEM fields. Through PG&E’s Campaign for the Community fundraiser, the Women’s Network raised $51,000 which, through a rigorous application process, was awarded to 17 deserving high school students continuing to college. The Women’s Network Scholarship Program targets students interested in energy, science, technology, engineering and math with the intention of creating a strong, diverse talent pipeline for our workforce. Each year, PG&E has hired more interns who were past recipients of scholarship awards.

Capital One’s Women in Tech Network (WIT) sponsors and supports multiple events throughout the year including a 10-week program for middle school students to gain exposure to software engineering and computer science in the Greater Washington D.C. area. WIT volunteers mentored students in software development, design thinking and mobile app creation. At the end, students presented their apps at a Demo Day ceremony to be rated, and the winning teams were honored.

Service is a powerful tool for strengthening our communities, but it is only a start.

“The upcoming commemoration of the MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 15 is an opportunity to remember that history and recommit ourselves as citizens by volunteering in service to one another. It is also a time to consider how much work still remains to fulfill Dr. King’s dream.”

This quote, from the Corporation for National and Community Service, is an important one as we move forward into 2018 after an incredibly divisive year, especially regarding issues of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality. It is crucial that we continue to find ways to come together throughout the year to celebrate the diversity of our communities and support one another in those celebrations. Whether it be through company-wide heritage month celebrations, marching in a Pride parade or joining an ERG, we encourage you to find ways to learn about your colleagues and explore your own identity and how it plays a role in your work life.

Equally important, though, we need to continue to create space for the difficult conversations about race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality sorely needed if our organizations are going to evolve to truly inclusive workplaces for all employees. Seramount has created an array of resources to help you in both celebrating our diversity and facilitating those difficult and bold conversations. We hope that these will give you the tools you need to continue your work and “commemorate as well the timeless values Dr. King taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership.”

About the Authors

Jennifer London
Director, Events
Seramount