Martin Luther King Jr. Day offers a day off from school in NYC when families can explore the legacy of the iconic civil rights leader over the long weekend. In New York City, there are many enriching ways to celebrate Dr. King's life and teachings with kids, including interactive peace marches, a historic walking tour of Harlem, a FREE bash at BAM in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and various museum events.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, January 18) is also a National Day of Service, when citizens are encouraged to help out in their communities. So we've included a list of family volunteering opportunities that are wonderful ways to honor King's work. You can find even more things to do on MLK Day in our Event Calendar.
Martin Luther King Day Celebrations
Click through to our listings for all the details, including addresses, times and recommended ages.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March – Harlem to the Upper East Side
For the 28th consecutive year, eighth-graders from Manhattan Country School (MCS) will lead a peace-minded march through the Upper East Side, Harlem, Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side. This year's theme is "The Unarmed Truth," inspired by King's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Marchers sing civil rights songs and read their own speeches. The procession kicks off at 10am at the future home of MCS at 150 W. 85th Street and makes stops at Central Park, Frederick Douglass Circle, Ali Forney Center, Harriet Tubman Statue and the Islamic Cultural Center before ending at the current MCS location at East 96th Street.
Interfaith Peace Walk – Upper West Side
Mommy Poppins blogger and family volunteering guru Natalie told us about the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus' 14th annual all-faiths procession. It kicks off at 2pm, and hits Upper West Side synagogues, temples, mosques and churches before returning to the chapel for group reflection. All ages are welcome.
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The Brooklyn International Choir will perform at BAM's Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. Photo by Elena Olivo/courtesy BAM.
Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – Fort Greene
For the 30th year, BAM hosts New York City’s largest public celebration of the great civil rights leader. This year’s main event features a keynote address by best-selling author and cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson. Tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Seneca Village Tour – Upper West Side
The Central Park Conservancy hosts a tour of the area that once housed 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. Highlights include Summit Rock, Tanner's Spring, Winterdale Arch and sites of important residences and churches before the development of the park. Advance tickets recommended.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Historic Harlem – Harlem
$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. Reservations are not required. Afterward, explore more of the neighborhood, including the recently opened Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling.
Freedom Songs and Stories – Prospect Park, Brooklyn
$3 suggested donation
Storyteller Tammy Hall shares multicultural stories and activist songs from around the world at Lefferts Historic House. It's a great way for younger kids to begin to understand the meaning of the holiday.
Martin Luther King Day Special Event – Lower East Side
The Museum at Eldridge Street honors MLK's legacy with a reading of Kobi Yamada's picture book What Do You Do With an Idea?Afterward, kids make a mural that depicts their hopes and dreams for the world.
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Living History Days: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Weekend– Upper West Side
Free with admission: $20 adults, $6 for children 5-13
Rally around the 26th New York Regiment U.S. Colored Troops at the New-York Historical Society all weekend. Find out what it was like to fight for racial equality during the Civil War. Get a close-up look at clothing, gear and training to decide for yourself if you would have been ready for battle. The program begins at 11am each day January 16-18.
As part of the celebration, the historical society hosts a kid-friendly panel conversation on a major moment in the civil rights movement. In addition, author Calvin Alexander Ramsey will read his story of a girl named Ruth, who navigated her family through the Jim Crow South using the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, first published by Harlem postman Victor Hugo Green in 1936.
Celebrate Dr. King Weekend – Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Free with admission: $9
The Brooklyn Children's Museum celebrates MLK throughout the three-day weekend with interactive activities that explore peace, empathy and togetherness.
Historic Heroines: Coretta Scott King – Upper West Side
Free with admission: $12
The Children's Museum of Manhattan hosts a three-day celebration, which includes all ages fun, performances by the Harlem Gospel Choir and drop-in art programs such as mosaic crafting and another inviting children ages 6 and older to create a book in honor of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King. The tot hot spot will remain open on Monday, a day it typically closes.
Activist NY: I Have a Dream – East Harlem
Free with admission: $14 for adults, free for those younger than 20
Explore the Museum of the City of New York's Activist New York exhibit to learn about the civil rights movement in the Big Apple, and leaf through books about Martin Luther King Jr. Afterward, kids make their own bookmarks inspired by his dream.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Volunteer Opportunities for Families
MLK Day of Service – Upper East Side
Help prepare and serve meals to the homeless at the Manhattan Church of Christ, and listen to spoken performances that honor Dr. King's work. Families with children as young as 3 are welcome. Sign up for the shift you want depending on what you'd like to do (setup, meal prep, serving or cleanup).
Harlem's Little Helpers – Harlem
Help bake sweet treats and fill lunch bags at the Community Kitchen of West Harlem. Children as young as 10 can participate. Register in advance.
Repair the World – Brooklyn
This organization offers a variety of family-friendly volunteer activities, including preparing sandwiches and cards at Congregation Beth Elohim, or bring your teen to help refurbish surfboards to be donated to schools.
Partnership for Parks MLK Day of Service – Citywide
One recreation center in each borough hosts park-related volunteer projects for ages 14 and older. Minors must have a parent present and advance registration is required.
Martin Luther King Day Idlewild Park Wetland Cleanup – Queens
Teens and parents can join Natural Areas Volunteers to clean up Idlewild Park. Dress for the cold and be willing to get dirty. Advance registration required. Email NAV@parks.nyc.gov for more information.
Also of note: The mayor's office has a database of volunteer projects and the Martin Luther King Day of Service website allows you to search for projects in your area. Enter your zip code and you'll get a list of opportunities along with registration information. Confirm that children are welcome before signing up.
If you've got very young children, read our post about ways you can help others from home year-round.
Top Image: A student reads an original speech at Manhattan Country School's Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative March. Photo courtesy of the school.
This post first published in January 2009 but is updated annually.