Let’s find the “Austin way” to commemorate MLK Day.
To appreciate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, you’ve got to know what it took for it to even exist.
First, it took almost 20 years of rallying, petitioning, lobbying and calls on Congress to pass a law to establish a national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
By the time the law passed in 1983, only about 17 states recognized the holiday and almost no company offered a paid day off. By 1993, every state but New Hampshire (go figure) observed a statewide King holiday, and even New Hampshire didn’t come around until 2000. Today, all 50 states mark MLK Day, as do about 100 countries besides the United States.
All of this is just to say that lots of people had to work really hard to establish this national holiday. So please do not celebrate your day off with mattress shopping. That’s just not who we are, Austin.
Most MLK events commemorate Dr. King, his peaceful push for social justice that he stood for, and all the people who pushed for a day of observance, with marches, music, food and speeches and, of course, service to the common good.
But even that element of volunteering took a while. It wasn’t until 1994 that volunteering was even part of the day. And yet, this may be one of King’s greatest legacies:
“Recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s the new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness it means that everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Saturday, January 17, hundreds participated in a clean-up of MLK Boulevard, an annual opportunity offered by United Way for Greater Austin. And United Way of Williamson County will host hundreds of volunteers on Monday, January 19. Across Central Texas, there will be plenty of marches, speeches, park clean-ups and other day projects. But we’re looking for a more Austin-y way to celebrate.
For example, we love the Peace Through Pie events, the focus of which are cross-cultural discussions led by African-American community leaders… or pie, whichever gets you in the door. “Through pie socials,” says PTP, “we are able to engage with one another, share culinary traditions, culture, and solutions to the challenges we face everyday.”
We also love this idea from Forest Creek Elementary School in Round Rock. For weeks, students have been collecting books and raising money to benefit a nonprofit called Libraries of Love, which provides books to libraries in Uganda. On Monday, January 19 — their day off from school, by the way — students will gather on the playground for a walk-a-thon.
There will be the requisite speeches about Martin Luther King, Jr. and service, then the group will walk a few laps around the track with hardback books, sit and read together, then walk some more. The total distance walked will be one-half mile to symbolize the walk students in Uganda take daily to attend school.
Now that’s how we do MLK Day Austin. Here’s hoping you find your way to honor Dr. King and social justice.