Celebrating Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Whether it’s a day of volunteering or quiet reflection, Atlantans honor King.

“The Martin Luther King holiday is not a day to ‘take off’ but to ‘take on’,” says Jay Cranman, president and CEO of Hands On Atlanta. “Dr. King believed in serving and uplifting the community, and a project day of service certainly honors Dr. King and his work.”

Jan. 17 marks the 36th anniversary of the King holiday and to many, it’s another day off from work. But to millions across the country — if not the world — it’s a day to honor the man and the civil rights movement by lifting up the community. Atlanta, of course, takes pride in being the birthplace of the civil rights movement as well as the final resting place of King. Before the pandemic, there were parades and multiple celebrations across the metro area. Today, it is more subdued and some organizations are rolling back, going virtual or cancelling activities.

Still there are plenty of ways to honor King. Hands On Atlanta, which connects citizen volunteers and socially responsible companies to nonprofits and schools in need, has partnered with the King Center, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Morehouse College, the Atlanta History Center, and Points of Light in an effort to reinforce King’s “Beloved Community.”

“We all wanted to work together as partners to cross promote activities and have a landing page where Atlantans can go see all the projects in advance,” says Cranman. “The organizations don’t have an umbrella theme but Morehouse and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights have a theme of youth activism and at Hands On Atlanta, our focus is “what we teach our kids about race.”

Credit: AJC file

Credit: AJC file

By going to the landing page, mlkatl.org, people can find more than 200 volunteer projects (some virtual) needed by more than 35 nonprofits and schools. The MLK Days of Service projects are spread over five days.

In addition, Hands On Atlanta will host the annual MLK Sunday Supper, which is now virtual. The evening will feature Brandon Fleming, CEO and founder of the Harvard Debate Council, who will host a panel discussion on race, and Dr. Beverly Tatum, president emerita at Spelman College, will be the “challenge” speaker. After the presentation, guests, who will be on Zoom, will break up into smaller groups to talk about race and teaching children about it.

“This event is ticketed and for 300 people, but we encourage people to host dinner parties and have meaningful conversations around race,” says Cranman. He recommends the website inclusivv.co, which helps people have such discussions in an open but polite and respectful manner.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The Atlanta History Center also is sponsoring virtual and in-person events on Jan. 16 and 17. The museum is free those days but tickets are required, mainly due to COVID-19 precautions, and masks are mandatory.

“You can’t talk about Atlanta’s history without talking about the civil rights movement,” says Claire Haley, vice president of public relations and programs for the center. “There are so many names we don’t know who stood up for what was right and were galvanized to action because of Dr. King, some may even be our neighbors. We want to highlight the history through exhibits, programs and author talks so that people learn and understand.”

The center has three in-person author talks and one virtual, Robert Hamilton, author of “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968.” Hamilton’s talk will also be streamed live while the other authors’ talks will be videotaped and available on the museum’s YouTube channel and possibly streamed live (pending technical issues).

There are a number of ways to celebrate King such as visiting museums, reading books or watching virtual events, but to Cranman and many others, it is a day to honor King’s mission to uplift the community.

“The reality is that volunteering helps your mental and physical health,” says Cranman. “You feel in control; it changes your perspective. It’s a wonderful thing to do. What better way to celebrate Dr. King than doing something of purpose, to live with more intention?”

Check with organizers and venues prior to attending any in-person events, as the coronavirus and weather conditions are causing some cancellations and/or postponements. Among the activities around the King holiday are:

The King Center. Due to COVID-19, the King Center is temporarily closed, including Freedom Hall and Dr. King’s Birth Home. Visitors may walk the grounds including visiting the Kings’ crypt and the Eternal Flame. However, the center is hosting several activities, many of them virtual.

  • Beloved Community Global Summit (virtual). 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Jan. 13; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 14.
  • “It Starts with Me.” A youth book will be read, along with a puppetry presentation. 10:30- 11:30 a.m. Jan. 15.
  • Beloved Community Awards, formerly the Salute to Greatness Awards (virtual). 7 p.m. Jan. 15.
  • Flame of Hope Ceremony Hosts: the King Center and Earth Caravan. Masks required. 2 p.m.-2:45 p.m. Jan. 16. The King Center Freedom Hall Plaza, 449 Auburn Ave., 404-526-8900.
  • King Day Community Service Project. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 17. Drop off requested items at the King Center Freedom Hall Plaza.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Beloved Community Commemorative Service. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Jan. 17. The service will be broadcast on FOX5 and streamed on The King Center’s YouTube page, Facebook and website. All attendees must show proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event and wear masks. thekingcenter.org/king-holiday-2022.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Center for Civil and Human Rights. There will be a full day of activities for the family including interactive storytelling with children’s author Mama Koku; spoken word performances from Emmy-nominated author, poet, and playwright Jon Goode, visual artist talkbacks and more. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 15. On Jan. 17, Radio One will do live remotes with contests and trivia contests from noon-3 p.m. All activities included with general admission, $16. 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Atlanta. 678-999-8990, civilandhumanrights.org.

Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. Stewardship Saturday. Help clear and mulch trails, pick up litter and help maintain the Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. After the work is finished, there will be sightseeing and a short hike. Gloves and tools provided. 3787 Klondike Road, Stonecrest. 1 p.m. Jan. 15. 770-484-3060, arabiaalliance.org.

NAACP DeKalb 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. The parade begins at Green Pastures Christian Church and ends at Martin Luther King High School. Noon-2 p.m. Jan. 17. Free. Green Pastures Christian Church, 5455 Flat Shoals Parkway, Decatur. 404-241-8006, naacpdekalb.org.

MLK Day 5K Drum Run. The USATF certified race course will start at the Doraville MARTA station. In addition there will be a 3.1-mile drumline along the race course. 8:45 a.m. Jan. 17. 5935 New Peachtree Road, Doraville. 404-889-1142, mlkday5k.com.

“Continuing the Journey.” Sponsored by the Cobb County Branch of the NAACP and the Cobb County Government. The celebration will have entertainment, dramatic readings, dance and music performances as well as the presentation of the “Living the Dream” award to a community member who demonstrates the ideals King exemplified. 10 a.m.-noon Jan. 17. Free. Jennie T. Anderson Theatre, 548 S. Marietta Parkway, Marietta. 770-425-5757, marietta.com/dr-martin-luther-king-jr-celebration.

Hands On Atlanta. 600 Means St. NW #100, Atlanta. 404-979-2800, handsonatlanta.org.

Atlanta History Center. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Free (with pre-registration) on Jan. 16 and 17. 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta. 404-814-4000, atlantahistorycenter.com.