Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A Day to Learn, A Day to Serve, A Day to Empower Change



“What you do this day will have an impact on children yet unborn.” –Martin Luther King Jr. 

Freeman Hrabowski, who started off as a youth activist, recounts the first time he heard the above words spoken to him and other young activists. He was in prison with other children for marching in the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told him and the other activists, “What you do this day will have an impact on children yet unborn.” Hrabowski shared that he could never forget those words. “I’ll never forget that. I didn’t even understand it, but I knew it was powerful, powerful, very powerful.”  
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day offers Americans a chance to remember and celebrate the life and legacy of the man who advanced the civil rights of black people through a campaign of civil disobedience. Although a holiday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a day of service; a “day on, not a day off.”
A day to learn the lessons that civil rights history has to offer. A day to serve in communities to make a difference in the lives of others. A day to connect people of different ages and backgrounds. A day to empower individuals to be activists who dismantle racism and fight for social justice. In essence, a day to move closer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision. A place where all people are created equal, enjoy the same rights and privileges, and are judged by the “content of their character” and not the “color of their skin.” 

Educators have the opportunity to explore quality literature and engage children in critical conversations around this topic. Books and conversation can be the spark that inspire children to actively stand up for change. 

Instructional Guide

Download and share this helpful guide today!

Download MLK Guide Here! 

When you teach even our youngest learners that children, teenagers, and young adults were part of the Civil Rights Movement, it could spur action. People like Freeman Hrabowski, who at age 12 was arrested for marching in the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade, and Marilyn Hildreth who participated in a drug store sit-in as a child, were activists. 

It’s important for Black and Latinx children to know they can affect change. It’s important for them to see themselves in the stories that are read and discussed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not meant to be a solitary day of service. Instead, it should be an example for what can be done every day. 
This guide offers suggested literature and ways to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. -- his life, his work, and the Civil Rights Movement through history and now. Here are some ways you can use children’s literature to bring this work into your classroom. These umbrella concepts and questions can be used with any book to spark conversation and inspire children to stand up for change. 

Amplify Black Joy 

Joy is contagious and is an act of resistance against systems of oppression. Amplifying Black joy affirms children’s identity and helps to build resilience in Black children. When we amplify Black joy, we shift children’s understanding of Black culture and enrich the lives of every child in our classrooms. 
  • How do you see yourself in the activists we read about?  
  • What did you learn about who you want to be? 
  • In what ways do you and your family celebrate your culture? 

Connect Children to Their History  

Connect the events of history to the lives of the children in yourclassrooms. Explore how the actions of the past shaped and continues to shape the lives of people now. Help children see how historical events connect to current events. 

  • How does your family talk about things that are not fair? 
  • How does your family talk about the Civil Rights issues that are happening today? 
  • What can we learn from the past that we can apply to today? 

Develop Criticality  

Criticality means reading, writing, and thinking in active ways to understand and question how power, privilege, and oppression play out in texts and in the real world and work towards change.
  • How do you know when something is unfair? 
  • Thinking about Dr. King’s work, how would he address the events of today? 
  • What would our world look like today if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had lived and continued his work? 

Understand and Dismantle Racism  

Help children recognize and understand privilege and bias in the world. Explore what is needed to combat racism.  
  • What were the civil rights activist fighting against and for?
  • How does racism show up in our lives today?
  • How did the strategies that activist used this past summer during Black Lives Matter protests compare to strategies used in the book we read? 

Inspire Action 

Help children consider what can be done to make a difference in our society. Brainstorm and identify ways they can get involved and work towards creating an equitable and just world.  
  • What does it mean to be an activist? 
  • As an activist, what can you do in your community to make the world better? 
  • As an activist, what strategies do you think would be most effective in making change? 

MLK Day Book Collection

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day), we put together a small collection of books that highlight Dr. King’s life and the movement he inspired.
See the MLK Day Book Collection Today! >>

Get Updates!

Ensure you stay up-to-date with the latest news, impact reports, donor events, and much more.