It’s gratifying — and then some — to scroll through the volunteer opportunities for the Martin Luther King Day of Service in Philadelphia on Global Citizen 365’s website — and see so many slots filled. Philly has, and has often boasted about of having, the nation’s largest day of service on King Day. In this case, boasting is fine.
Know what would make things even more fine? If you — you!!! — joined up with friends, or went solo, to pitch in at any number of community projects — and then went back on a non-holiday to help out some more.
Need more inspiration? MLK weekend also brings plenty of programming — especially free programs — to enjoy at the African American Museum, Uncle Bobbie’s, Eastern State Penitentiary, the Philadelphia Film Center, Girard College …
Here, ways you can volunteer, take part, observe, and celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in Philadelphia:
Volunteer for the King Day of Service
PACK PERSONAL CARE ITEMS. The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) starts the long weekend early. On January 13, 5:30 – 7:30pm, the museum’s Big Give Back is asking volunteers to pack up personal care items for people in need of shelter. The recipient: The Center for Hope, a program of the Urban Affairs Coalition. (Donate those items too.) 701 Arch Street. Note the date here!
FIX UP AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Join YouthBuild Philly Charter School in revitalizing Bluford Elementary in Carroll Park. Bluford recently lost its charter because of building conditions and will be officially taken over by the School District next year. Volunteers will spruce up common areas, start a garden, paint walls and murals, and develop learning aids on January 16, 9am – 2pm. Register here. 5720 Media Street
RESTORE CHEW REC CENTER. This Southwest Philly sports and recreation site reopened in November after four years of dealing with lead poisoning. Now, the spot needs volunteers to weed, clean up debris, paint, and cover soil. January 16, 9am – 2pm. Sign up here. 1800 Washington Avenue
SEND BOOKS TO INCARCERATED PEOPLE. Volunteers for Books through Bars read book request letters, choose books from the onsite library, and pack those books to send to people imprisoned in and beyond PA. The organization prefers groups of 5 to 15 to volunteer, with this warning: Once you start helping here, you will want to come back. January 16, times vary. Register through website. 4722 Baltimore Avenue
END GUN VIOLENCE. Join the illustrious Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters, Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and “57 Blocks” project to rally for peace and discuss a place-based strategy to help end gun violence and promote racial justice. January 16, noon – 2pm. Register here; address provided upon registration.
COOK, PACK, SORT FOOD — KIDS WELCOME. Caring for Friends’ location in Northeast Philadelphia is looking for volunteer groups to help out in their commercial kitchen on January 16, including 5 – 5pm. Staying at home, or too far from the Northeast? Color cards that they’ll share with the folks they serve. 12271 Townsend Road
RESCUE FOOD. Philadelphia’s Share Food Program is so popular, they’ve already filled a number of volunteer slots — to stock church pantries, pack boxes in the warehouse. What’s left on January 16, 10am – noon or 1 – 3pm? Download their Food Rescue app and pick up foods they’ll redistribute. So, you’d be UberEats, but for a good cause. Register here. 2901 W. Hunting Park Avenue
Watch and Listen on (and before) MLK Day
DANCE, DANCE, DANCE. Dancers from the Philadelphia Ballet 2 lead children in classes in ballet and African dance on January 14, 11am – 1pm at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. From 1 – 4pm, professional Black choreographers and dancers offer a glimpse into the personal experiences of their profession in a panel discussion. Discounted admission. 701 Arch Street
LEARN ABOUT THE REAL MLK AT UNCLE BOBBIE’S. Marc Lamont Hill opens up his amazing bookshop-coffeeshop to keep up the tradition of exploring who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was — the man behind the modern mythology. Lamont Hill is there to lead the talk. January 14, 2pm. Free. Register here. 6001 Germantown Avenue
MEET LEGENDARY PHOTOGRAPHER JAMEL SHABAZZ. Shabazz, the genius behind the portraits of Back in the Days among countless other real Black life scenes, discusses his creative process after 45 years of doing what he does. Come early — 1pm — wearing your finest throwback hip-hop gear for a photo he’ll take in front of the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Stay late to pick up signed copies of his latest books, Jamel Shabazz: Albums and A Time before Crack. January 15, 2 – 4pm. $5. 701 Arch Street
WATCH MLK/FBI. The Philadelphia Film Center hosts two must-see films on January 15. The first, at 3pm, is MLK/FBI, is Sam Pollard’s 202 documentary about the U.S. government’s role in the surveillance — and death — of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tickets for this screening are: $14, $12 for senior, $10 for ages 12 and under. 1412 Chestnut Street
WATCH DO THE RIGHT THING. At 5:30pm on January 15, the center screens a remastered version of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. This classic story of Brooklyn in the 1980s stars Lee, Rosie Perez, Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis … Afterwards, audience members take part in a discussion about making the right kinds of change in Philly neighborhoods. Free (registration requested). 1412 Chestnut Street
LISTEN TO CIVIL RIGHTS ICONS. January 16, 11am – 4:45pm, Eastern State Penitentiary’s annual MLK Day highlights Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Local leaders read excerpts of the acclaimed writing — along with words by fellow social justice advocates Frederick Douglass, Angela Davis, Malcolm X and Ida B. Wells, who, like Dr. King, experienced incarceration. Family programming, noon – 2pm; voter registration throughout the day. Free. 2027 Fairmount Avenue
HEAR THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA. Play Lift Every Voice and Sing, Children, Go Where I Send Thee, and Anthem of Praise as a grand finale to events taking place at Girard College on January 16, 3pm. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts; Charlotte Blake Alston narrates. Free, but reservations recommended. 2101 S. College Avenue
Visit on King Day
SHOW UP AT THE CENTER OF IT ALL. Girard College has been the “Signature Site” for the Martin Luther King Day of Service. This year, the site will host a jobs fair, a health and wellness fair, civic engagement expo, workshops … along with talks, music, activities for children, and, for you last-minute planners, ways for you to volunteer. Registration not required. January 16, 8am – 5pm. 2101 S. College Avenue
EXPLORE AAMP FOR FREE (and kids: Get your finances in order). All day on January 16, 10am – 5pm the African American Museum in Philadelphia offers free admission, including to its exhibition, Vision and Spirit. At 2pm, Teana Sykes, founder and creator of Tea Talk, hosts an interactive financial literacy activity for middle schoolers and high school students — to put them onto the path of long term financial health. Free. 701 Arch Street
LEARN YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY. The National Constitution Center waives admission on January 16, 10am – 5pm. Inside, all ages of visitors can witness one of two readings of King’s I Have a Dream speech, listen to live performances of civil rights-era songs, tour the civil rights exhibit, and donate school supplies. Free. 525 Arch Street
MORE ON DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.’S LEGACY IN PHILADELPHIA