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Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Find 2023 events and volunteer opportunities around Washington

Monday, Jan. 16, is a federal holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It falls every year on the third Monday of January (roughly aligning with the civil rights leader’s birthday on Jan. 15, 1929).

Thousands of people around the Pacific Northwest will march and call for nonviolent social change and racial equality as espoused by King. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has also become an occasion to volunteer across the country. It is the only federal holiday designated by Congress as a day of service.

King’s widow, the late Coretta Scott King, led a 15-year campaign to establish the holiday to celebrate her husband’s life and legacy. King was a Baptist minister famous for delivering the “I have a dream speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in 1963. He was front and center in the Birmingham integration campaign the same year, the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, among other protests.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the "I have a dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

At just age 35, King became at that time the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated on the balcony railing of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, having come to the city to support striking sanitation workers.

MLK Day was first recognized as a federal holiday in 1983 and was further designated as a National Day of Service in 1994.  

Of the holiday, Coretta Scott King once said: “The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.”  

As in past years, the holiday will be marked by numerous events in the Pacific Northwest. Please check ahead in case of program changes.

Activist Sharon Risher
Activist Sharon Risher. Photo is from sharonrisherspeaks.com.

Seattle

On Jan. 16, the historic Garfield High School will host a job fair at 8:30 a.m., a rally at 11 a.m. in the Garfield High School gym and a march at 12:30 p.m. The event is free. A bus will be available for a ride back to the school. Volunteers will also be on hand to pass out signs in the high school parking lot prior to the walk. Check for updated details on the parade route and featured speakers here. 

On Jan. 13, a MLK celebration will be held in the Brockley Center at South Seattle College. The featured speaker is the Rev. Sharon Washington Risher, a Charleston, South Carolina, activist. Also featured are DaNell Daymon & Greater Works, a contemporary gospel choir; and Monique Ming Laven, who co-anchors KIRO 7 News.

On Jan. 16, The Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) will celebrate King with a number of family activities from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Everett

On Jan. 13, there’s an MLK march and rally in Everett organized by the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee. Scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the 1-mile march will proceed from Everett Memorial Stadium to the Carl Gipson Center. The walk will take about an hour, followed by an hour-long rally with speeches. On Jan. 15, the Committee will also host an MLK Day celebration from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Everett. This year’s theme is “The Urgency of Now: From Dream to Reality.”

Edmonds

On Jan. 17, Lift Every Voice Legacy presents its annual tribute to King with the spoken word, song and dance. Sean Goode, executive Director of CHOOSE 180, a non-profit that works with juvenile and young adult offenders will be the featured storyteller.

Gospel, R&B and jazz singer Josephine Howell and her band; Barclay Shelton Dance Centre; PRICEarts Dance Company; and the Greater Everett MLK Celebration Ensemble will also be featured. Seattle theologian Brian Bantum will tell the story of King’s last sermon of Feb. 4, 1968, at the Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Tickets are $15 or $18 during the day of the event; $5 for students.

Poet Christian Page
Poet Christian Page. Photo is from strivetogether.org

Tacoma

On Jan. 16, the city of Tacoma will hold its annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration 11 a.m. at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. This year’s theme is “And we rise.” The city will honor Pricilla Lisicich, executive director of the Safe Streets campaign and grassroots organizer Tanika Aden with individual Lifetime Service Awards. Mayor Victoria Woodards will present a Special Recognition Award to J’Nai Bridges, a two-time Grammy award winning mezzo-soprano from Lakewood. The event will also be broadcast live on TV Tacoma and Facebook.

Also in Tacoma, the History Museum will offer free admission on MLK Day, with special programs honoring King’s life and legacy. At 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Tacoma Arts Live presents the original “11 Days in the Life of Dr. King,” presenting 11 vignettes with words, dance, music and historic images. At 3 p.m., Living Voices presents “The Right to Dream: Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s,” revealing the struggle for Black civil rights through the eyes of a young African American activist growing up in Mississippi in the 1960s, as well as highlights the struggles of women activists.  

On Jan. 17, the University of Puget Sound will hold its MLK celebration at 6:30 p.m. in the Kilworth Memorial Chapel. The event features Emmy-nominated poet and advocate for equity, Christian Page.

Bellingham

On Jan. 16. Western Washington University hosts “Now is the Time” from 8-11:30 a.m., featuring LaTosha Brown, an organizer, political strategist and jazz singer who founded the Black Voters Matter fund. This event will also include comments from Jason McGill, CEO of Northwest Youth Services, and members of the Whatcom Racial Equity Commission. Livestream will be available for those unable to attend in person. Following the event, there will be volunteer service opportunities.

From Jan. 12-14, Whatcom Human Rights Task Force will host the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference. Join local poets 6-8 p.m. Jan. 12, for a poetry night inspired by the words of bell hooks (the poet and activist Gloria Jean Watkins). On Jan. 13, the opening ceremony will be held from 6-8 p.m., and features keynote speaker and environmentalist, Emily Pinckney and environmental advocate Destiny Dunbar. On Jan. 14, workshops will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with a closing session from 3-4 p.m. All events will be livestreamed on Zoom. Registration is required to participate in the workshops and the opening ceremony. Thursday’s poetry night has limited seating available (masks required.)

Mary Frances Berry
Mary Frances Berry. Photo is by spscc.edu.

Spokane

On Jan. 16, the city will hold its annual unity rally, march and resource fair at the Spokane Convention Center. The unity rally will begin at 10 a.m. with the march and fair to follow from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Jan. 15, there will also be a commemorative celebration from 3-5 p.m. at the Holy Temple Church of God in Christ.

Pasco

On Jan. 16, Pasco will distribute food and essential items 10 a.m. to noon at Gesa Stadium with the goal of helping roughly 2,000 families to honor King’s legacy. Organizers are still seeking volunteers and donations.

Olympia

On Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m., civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry will deliver a lecture, “Making Diversity & Inclusion Effective,” at South Puget Sound Community College’s Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts. The event is free to SPSCC students and faculty. General admission is $15.

—Compiled by Victor Whitman.

—Top photo is by Lrvinaysingh/DREAMSTIME.

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