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How to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Sing Harlem Choir performs during the 2023 Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at BAM. Photo by Elena Olivo

On the third Monday in January, the nation honors the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. First established in 1983, MLK Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated by Congress as a national day of service. While many Americans have off from school and work, the holiday is seen as a “day on, not a day off,” and provides opportunities to volunteer and give back to communities across the five boroughs. Ahead, we’ve found some ways to celebrate MLK Day in NYC, from volunteer service in Highland Park and Forest Park to listening to performances by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir.

The Mission Continues
George P. Davis American Legion Post 116, 414 Nostrand Avenue, Bed-Stuy
January 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Join the NYC Platoons over MLK weekend at the George P. Davis American Legion Post 116 in Bed-Stuy for a day of service. Participants will help complete a variety of tasks, including clearing out the basement and second floor to make space for future events, repainting the main floor, cleaning out the shed, sanding down the ceiling, replacing old light bulbs, reorganizing the kitchen area, and sanding down the door in the women’s bathroom. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. You can register for the event here.

MLK Day of Volunteer Community Service with Repair the World
January 13 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
NYC Parks is calling upon New Yorkers to help out at Randall’s Island Park on January 13 in honor of MLK Day. The Randall’s Island Park Alliance is seeking volunteers to assist in painting creative, readable signs for their Urban Farm and other areas across the island. All supplies will be provided by the Alliance. You can register for the first session here and the second session here.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan
January 13 through January 15
The Tisch Building, 212 West 83rd Street, Upper West Side

The Upper West Side’s Children’s Museum of Manhattan is inviting guests to celebrate MLK Day weekend by diving into his concept of the “Beloved Community,” a worldwide vision rooted in justice, inclusiveness, equal opportunity, and compassion for others.

To help create a “Beloved Community,” CMOM is asking visitors to help build a collection of ideas and wishes for the community by drawing, writing, coloring, and collaging onto a rainbow of sticky notes that will form to create a giant, evolving community mural.

Inspired by MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, CMOM is creating an “I Have a Dream” community wreath that will grow throughout the weekend. Guests are invited to trace their hands and write their hopes and dreams for their communities as they are added to the wreath.

A full list of CMOM’s public programming and scheduling can be found here.

Image courtesy of Stephanie Berger

Young People’s Chorus of New York City
Brick Presbyterian Church, 1140 Park Avenue, Upper East Side
January 14 at 4 p.m.

The Young People’s Chorus of NYC (YPC), Yale Glee Club, and special guest headliner Lester Lynch are presenting a triple bill performance at Brick Presbyterian Church in Manhattan in honor of MLK’s legacy. The special performance marks the first time YPC has partnered with the Yale Glee Club. The night’s program includes curated songs honoring the iconic civil rights leader, including “Joy” written by Langston Hughes, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” arranged by Lester Lynch and Noam Faingold, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by YPC, and more. The concert is free and open to the public.

Uptown Hall: The Inconvenient King
Apollo’s Historic Theater, 243 West 125th Street, Harlem
January 14 at 2 p.m.

The Apollo, a longstanding steward of the Harlem community, is partnering with WNYC to host its 18th annual celebration of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s celebration centers around a renewed commitment to understanding the context, addressing the complexity, and “elevating” our collective consciousness in the face of injustice and discrimination. Kai Wright, the host of NPR’s Notes from America, will moderate the first hour of the event, followed by music, spoken word, and other forms of creative expression throughout the afternoon. You can RSVP for the free event here.

MLK Day at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Avenue, Crown Heights
January 14 and 15 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Crown Heights’ Brooklyn Children’s Museum is hosting two days of celebrations honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The engaging events include interactive performances, protest marches, community art programs, and volunteer projects. Both days of the celebration will feature shadow puppet performances produced by Nehprii Amenii, music and protest marches with Brooklyn-based musician Fyütch, community art-making activities, and more. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased for January 14 here and for January 15 here.

FABSCRAP Sorting Session
Brooklyn Army Terminal, 140 58th Street, Building B
January 15 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Spend MLK Day helping FABSCRAP save designer textiles from landfills. Participants will volunteer by sorting through fabric samples and swatches and picking out textiles for reuse. FABSCRAP is the fashion industry’s only available option for recycling and redistributing unused materials and is one of the most accessible ways for consumers to find fabric, trim, leather, and yarn that has been saved from landfills. You can register for the event here.

Pray March Act MLK Day Rally
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street, Harlem
January 15 at 11 a.m.

Join PMA in Harlem for a time of reflection, prayer, music, and discourse about social justice. PMA will contemplate the struggles of the past and the church’s role in advocacy, explore the challenges currently affecting NYC, and speak about ways PMA will continue to work with local communities to bring about positive change. Participants are encouraged to dress warmly as the event will take place outside. Reserve a spot for the rally here.

Image courtesy of Festival uličnih svirača on Flickr

The Harlem Gospel Choir
Sony Hall, 235 West 46th Street, Harlem
January 15, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Join the internationally-renowned Harlem Gospel Choir as they perform their annual MLK Day matinee. The choir was founded in 1986 by Allen Bailey, who came up with the idea while at a celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Cotton Club in Harlem.

The choir is made up of the finest singers and musicians from Harlem’s Black churches and across the tri-state area. Join them on MLK Day as they “share their message of love and inspiration” with New Yorkers on January 15. Tickets cost $31.72 and can be purchased here.

“I Have a Dream” Speech Gathering
Jackie Robinson Park, 85 Bradhurst Avenue, Harlem
January 15 from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Travel to Harlem’s Jackie Robinson Park for a sit-down viewing of MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered at the March on Washington in 1963. The event will include refreshments, a conversation about the speech’s legacy, and a survey.

MLK Day of Service at Highland Park
Vermont Place and Highland Boulevard, Highland Park, Queens
January 15, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Honor the legacy of MLK by joining NYC Parks for a day of service in Queens’ Highland Park. Participants will lend a head in leaf raking, vine cutting, and cleaning up the woodlands. Advanced registration is required and participants are instructed to wear warm layers and sturdy, closed-toe shoes to account for the cold weather. The event is free and open for all to attend.

MLK Day of Service at Forest Park
Sueffert Bandshell Parking Lot, Forest Park, Queens
January 15, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Pay tribute to MLK’s legacy of activism and community service by helping NYC Parks clean up Forest Park in Queens. Those who volunteer will help rake leaves, cut vines, and clean up the woodlands. Interested participants are encouraged to dress warmly and wear closed-toe shoes in anticipation of working outside in the cold weather. Advance registration is required.

MLK Day of Service Tree Care
Harlem and Bed-Stuy
January 15, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Work with NYC Parks Stewardship to care for local street trees in Harlem and Bed-Stuy. Volunteers will learn how to cultivate, aerate, mulch, and identify different types of street trees, as gain insight into the important roles street trees play across NYC. Volunteers are instructed to dress in warm clothes that can get dirty and closed-toe shoes. You can register for the Bed-Stuy event here and the Harlem event here.

MLK Day of Service: Snug Harbor Coastal Cleanup
Snug Harbor Cultural Center, North Gate on Richmond Terrace, Staten Island
January 15 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Volunteer with NYC Parks’ Stewardship Team at Staten Island’s Snug Harbor. Participants will help protect coastal areas by removing debris from the coastline and creating a healthier ecosystem. Volunteers are instructed to bring warm clothes that can get dirty and sturdy boots or shoes. You can register for the event here.

Sing Harlem Choir performs during the 2023 Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image courtesy of Elena Olivo

Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 38th Annual MLK Tribute
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene
January 15, 10:30 a.m.

On January 15, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is hosting the 38th annual MLK tribute show, a beloved Brooklyn tradition that welcomes the New Year and celebrates the life of MLK with musical performances and a call to action.

This year’s keynote speaker is Reginald Dwayne Betts, a poet, lawyer, and founder and CEO of Freedom Reads, who will offer his reflections on freedom and using his life’s work for social justice. The event will also feature captivating performances by Sing Harlem and singer-songwriter Madison McFerrin.

At 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3 p.m., BAMkids will pay tribute to MLK’s legacy through a variety of engaging activities, including a spoken word performance by Jada Wilkinson, and creating a community song and movement with music teaching artist Okai Fleurimont, spoken word artist Zaven, and dancer Robenson Mathurin. Visitors will be able to add to a collaborative CommUNITY Banner led by visual artist Lexy Ho-Tai, as well as other community crafts activities that work to create positive change. RSVP for the event here. The event will also be live-streamed for free on BAM.org.

Photo © Robert Deitchler / Gensler

MLK Day at the Jackie Robinson Museum
One Hudson Square Building, 75 Varick Street, Hudson Square
January 15 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

On MLK Day, travel to Lower Manhattan’s Jackie Robinson Museum to learn about Dr. King and trailblazing baseball player Jackie Robinson’s close friendship and their collaborative work during the Civil Rights Movement. The museum will be offering guided museum tours at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., arts & crafts activities, trivia, and a museum scavenger hunt with the chance to win prizes. Tickets for adults cost $18 and can be purchased here.

Community Singing for Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Broadway Presbyterian Church, 601 West 114th Street, Morningside Heights
January 15 at 1:30 p.m.

Join Every Voice Choirs at Morningside Heights’ Broadway Presbyterian Church for an afternoon of community singing in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. The event will feature the voices of the EVC Kids Choir, Youth Choir, Concert Choir, VoiceAbility, Hunter Singers, Vocal Technique, and Cornerstone Choir. The event is free and open to the public. You can RSVP here.

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