A Day (or a Year, or a Career) of Service

A Day (or a Year, or a Career) of Service was originally published on Idealist Careers.

A black and white photo of Martin Luther King Jr. on yellow notebook paper, surrounded by an illustration of a growing tree sprouting from the ground, to signify an MLK Day of Service..

Illustration by Marian Blair

Since 1986, the third Monday of the year has been the day on which we commemorate and honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And in 1994, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was officially recognized as a national day of service

In his 1957 Birth of A New Nation speech, Dr. King said, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.” It is the dream of this “beloved community” that inspires idealists to commit a day (a week, an hour, or even an entire career) to the pursuit of a world absent of poverty, hunger, and hatred, and in which everyone is cared for.

To prepare for MLK Day on January 16, we’ve gathered some of our best resources to meet you wherever you are on your social-impact journey. Here are some ideas for how to advance your own pursuit of a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.

For a day

If you’re looking for a short-term volunteer activity, look no further than Idealist. There are hundreds of in-person and remote volunteer opportunities related to the commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that you can participate in during your own day of service. 

Our listings truly run the gamut and include everything from cleaning up shorelines and serving meals to people experiencing homelessness to packing food baskets for refugees and hosting a winter clothing drive for children.

For a year (or two)

Often funded by foundations or private donors, fellowships are designed to provide incentives and support to the next generation of nonprofit and social-justice leaders.

Fellowships are usually formal programs lasting anywhere from three months to two years, and often include:

  • A stipend 
  • Challenging work experience
  • Well-structured plans for training and professional development
  • Access to seasoned professionals as mentors

In addition to well-established programs, universities and privately-funded nonprofits like Greenpeace are now setting up fellowships to attract emerging leaders, so opportunities are expanding.

Explore whether a public service fellowship may be right for you, and if you’ve already answered that question with a resounding “yes!” start searching fellowships on Idealist today. To get you started, here are a few current opportunities that land squarely in the social-justice space:

For a career

We may be idealists, but we also understand that huge systemic change that honors Dr. King’s legacy won’t happen overnight. Many people around the country—and around the globe—dedicate their professional careers to building a better world. If that’s where you find yourself, welcome! We need you.

If you’re in the nascent stages of the big switch to the social-impact sector, here are a few resources to help you along the way:

However you choose to celebrate MLK Day this year, know that your act of service—no matter how small—can bring about change. You just have to get started.


Are you participating in your own MLK Day of Service? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or TikTok!