Martin Luther King Day with NYC Kids: Celebrations & Volunteer Opportunities for Families
Monday, January 20 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 enriching ways to celebrate Dr. King's life with kids, including walking tours of Harlem and the site that once housed African-American settlement Seneca Village in Central Park, a big FREE bash at BAM in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a no-cost concert at the JCC in Manhattan and educational museum programs for families.
Martin Luther King Day is also a National Day of Service when citizens are encouraged to help out in their communities. Sadly, there don't seem to be as many kid-friendly MLK Day volunteering opportunities as in years past but we've found a few organizations that could use your help on the holiday or throughout the year.
Martin Luther King Day Celebrations
MLK March with Manhattan Country School – Harlem to the Upper East Side
Kicks off at Abyssinian Baptist Church, 132 Odell Clark Place (a.k.a. 138th Street) between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue
Eighth graders from the private school lead a peace-minded march through Harlem, East Harlem and the Upper East Side. The students do it every year and this year's theme is "21 Voices: Letters of Support, Protest and Hope." It's really moving as they sing civil rights songs and read their own speeches at notable stops like the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Harlem YMCA, the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building and El Museo del Barrio. Find the complete list of stops on the website. March begins at 10am and ends at 1pm at the Manhattan Country School on 96th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, where hot chocolate will be served. FREE
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 civil rights activist Angela Davis is the keynote speaker of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 28th annual celebration. In addition to her speech, there will be performances by jazz singer José James and the Christian Cultural Center Choir. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 8am. Best for tweens and up.
Seneca Village Tour – Upper West Side
Meet inside Central Park at 85th Street and Central Park West
The Central Park Conservancy hosts a tour 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). Advance tickets recommended.
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 the civil rights movement in Harlem 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.
Community Conversation with Kids: Service and the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Lefferts Historic House, 452 Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Park
Great for elementary schoolers: After a reading of the picture book Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., kids can join in a facilitated discussion about service, freedom and democracy.
Martin Luther King Day Special – Lower East Side
The Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street between Canal and Division Streets
$15 per family
Learn about the harrowing journey of Jewish immigrants who left their homes to find a better life in America. In honor of Martin Luther King Day, there will be a reading of The Great Migration: Journey to the North, another powerful story about starting over. Afterward, tour the historic synagogue and collaborate on a themed mural. RSVP recommended.
Interfaith Peace Walk – Upper West Side
Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, 207 West 96th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue
Mommy Poppins blogger and family volunteering guru, Natalie, told us about this all-faiths procession that hits many churches, synagogues, temples and mosques before returning to the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus for group reflection. All ages welcome.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend – 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 create a peace-themed craft while older children can work on posters for a museum-wide peace march. On the official holiday, there will also be a performance by the Berean Community Drumline at 1:30pm.
Dr. Martin Luther King Day – Upper West Side
Children's Museum of Manhattan, 212 West 83rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue
Free with admission: $11
CMOM is also hosting MLK-themed programming throughout the three-day weekend but the highlight is the National Jazz Museum in Harlem All-Stars Band. The group will perform two concerts on Monday at 2 and 3:30pm. Tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis at the Visitor Information Desk.
Artists Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Upper West Side
334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street
The JCC in Manhattan sponsors this annual performance, which commemorates Dr. King with performances by Judith Sloan and the Prince of Kosher Gospel Joshua Nelson, and a keynote address by Susannah Heschel from Dartmouth College. During the afternoon, the JCC will host a blood drive as well as an interactive workshop for parents followed by a themed family activity.
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. GenerationOn isn't hosting its usual family event and suggests browsing New York Cares' database of projects. Note: In my experience, New York Cares doesn't have many kid-friendly options and the few offered fill up incredibly fast.
The Mayor's Office also has a database of volunteer projects you can search. There are a couple of MLK day projects with Partnership for Parks that teenagers can work on, as well as a slew of upcoming offerings.
The Martin Luther King Day of Service website 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. Before you sign up, verify that your children will be welcome.
If you've got very young children, read 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 anytime of year.