Martin Luther King Day with NYC Kids: Celebrations and Volunteer Opportunities for Families
Monday, January 21 is Martin Luther King Day, a day off from school (and hopefully work) when families can explore the legacy and lessons of the iconic civil rights leader. In New York City, there are many wonderful ways to celebrate Dr. King's life with kids, including walking tours of Harlem and Seneca Village in Central Park, a big free bash in Brooklyn, a no-cost concert on the Upper West Side and interactive museum programs.
Martin Luther King Day is also a National Day of Service, when citizens are encouraged to help out in their communities. If you're interested in volunteering with your children, we have info on a few opportunities on MLK Day, as well as organizations that could use your help throughout the year. Plus this year, MLK Day marks President Obama's inauguration day, and a few of our picks mark both historic occasions.
Martin Luther King Day Celebrations
Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – Fort Greene
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue between St Felix Street and Ashland Place
Legendary musician and civil rights activist Harry Belefonte is the keynote speaker of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 27th annual celebration. In addition to his speech, there will be a live simulcast of Obama's inauguration, musical performances by the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir and R&B duo Kindred the Family Soul. Best for tweens and up.
MLK March with Manhattan Country School – Upper East Side and East Harlem
Gracie Mansion, East End Avenue and 89th Street
Eighth graders from the private school lead a peace-minded march through the Upper East Side and East Harlem. The students do it every year and this year's theme is “25 Years: Reflecting on the Civil Rights Struggles of the Past, Looking Toward Justice for Tomorrow." It's really moving as they sing civil rights songs and read their own speeches at notable stops like Gracie Mansion, The ASPCA, the 92nd Street Y and the Dream Charter School.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Historic Harlem – Harlem
Meet in front of the Schomburg Center, 135th Street and Lenox Avenue
$20 for adults, $15 for students
During this two-hour Big Onion walking tour, you'll learn about African-American history and see historic homes, streets, churches and theaters including the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Apollo Theater and sites associated with Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Advance reservations aren't required. Just show up with cash. Afterward, explore more of the neighborhood and then grab dinner at one of our favorite family-friendly Harlem restaurants.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration – Upper West Side
Children's Museum of Manhattan, 212 West 83rd Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway
Free with admission: $11
Although CMOM is usually closed on Mondays, it's open in honor of the holiday. Young children can celebrate NYC’s diversity by creating self-portraits to add to the "I Have a Dream" mural, while older kids can pledge to make a difference in their communities. All visitors will be treated to a concert by the famous Harlem Gospel Choir. Check the museum's calendar for a complete schedule of activities.
MLK, Jr. Day – Hudson Square
Children's Museum of the Arts, 103 Charlton Street between Hudson and Greenwich Streets
Free with admission: $11
The museum is planning a number of hands-on art projects in honor of MLK. In Dream Animation, children can express their hopes for the world by making stop-motion shorts. Inspirational Speeches invites school-age kids to use Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" address to inspire their own speeches, which will be recorded. In Peace Prints kids create stamps out of cardboard and in Embroidered Heroic Portraits they learn how to embroider the faces of those they look up to.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend Birthday Bash – Crown Heights
Brooklyn Children's Museum, 145 Brooklyn Avenue between St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place
Free with admission: $9
BCM celebrates MLK throughout the three-day weekend with interactive activities that explore his contributions to our society. Young kids can add their wishes to the big birthday cake of dreams on Saturday and Sunday, or create a peace-themed craft. On Monday, school-age children can learn about Dr. King and make an art project inspired by his work. Check the museum's calendar for a complete schedule.
Celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation – Upper West Side
The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West at 77th Street
Free with admission: $15 for adults, $10 for students, $5 for children ages 5-13
African-American author Tonya Bolden reads from her latest children's book, Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty, and answers her young fans' questions. Afterward, give the abolitionist scavenger hunt a try!
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Special: Seneca Village Tour – Upper West Side
Meet inside Central Park at 85th Street and Central Park West
12:30 and 2:30pm
The Central Park Conservancy hosts a pair of no-cost tours of the area that used to house Seneca Village, Manhattan's first-known community of African-American homeowners, which was demolished in the mid-19th century to make way for the park. We admit, we don't know how much there is to see in terms of relics, but spending an hour in the park hearing about this unique settlement sounds fun to us (but we are a little geeky).
Martin Luther King Story Hour & Crafts – Lower East Side
The Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street Canal and Division Streets
Staff will share Eloise Greenfield's poetry from her illustrated book The Great Migration: Journey to the North followed by MLK-themed crafts and tours of the historic synagogue. RSVP recommended.
Artists Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Upper West Side
Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street
The JCC in Manhattan sponsors this annual performance, which commemorates Dr. King in his own words of peace, tolerance and civil rights. There will be readings, playlets, songs and more, all honoring his legacy. Visit the JCC's website for a complete lineup.
Martin Luther King Day Volunteer Opportunities for Families
Unfortunately there don't seem to be as many family-friendly volunteering opportunities as in years past but we did find a few that are appropriate for school-age kids.
GenerationOn – East Harlem
PS / MS 57, James Weldon Johnson, 176 E 115th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues
GenerationOn—the youth service arm of the Points of Light Institute—invites families to gather at PS 57 to work on Hurricane Sandy relief and other service projects for local organizations. The activities are meant to be fun and engaging for children, and there will also be snacks.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service: Program on Hunger – Upper West Side
JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street
Beginning at 10am
As usual, the Upper West Side JCC is hosting a day of volunteer projects. This year's theme is fighting hunger and while there were opportunities for children as young as 2, it looks like they're already full. There are still lots of projects available for ages 12 and up. Visit the website for a complete schedule. Preregistration required.
Inauguration of a DREAM: a Celebration of Education, Service and Democracy – Harlem
Harlem Amory, 142nd Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues
Harlem charter school Democracy Prep hosts this day-long bash. Families are invited to celebrate Obama's inauguration and Martin Luther King's legacy with live music, guest speakers, free food, door prizes and community service opportunities. Must RSVP by Tuesday, January 15.
The Martin Luther King Day of Service website, sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service, is a great resource if you're looking for a project in your area. Just put in your zip code and you'll get a list of opportunities along with registration information. Also of note: A database of opportunities on Saturday, January 19 put together by the Presidential Inauguration Committee, which is also searchable by zip code. Unfortunately, neither site allows you to filter the results by category so many of the projects may not be kid-friendly. Before you sign up, verify your children will be welcome.
If you've got very young children, check out our post about ways you can help others from home. The post isn't MLK specific, but most of the activities can be done at any time of year.