How to get involved in Philly’s 2024 MLK Day of Service

Here’s a look at some MLK Day volunteer and engagement opportunities, from panel discussions to community cleanups.

Shelley Henderson (left) and her daughter, Jaylynn Chalmers, 13, work together to clean up Tacony Creek Park

Shelley Henderson (left) and her daughter, Jaylynn Chalmers, 13, work together to clean up Tacony Creek Park. The two joined dozens of volunteers who participated in the MLK Day of Service project hosted by the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership on Jan. 16, 2023. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Philadelphia is home to the largest MLK Day event in the country.

What started in 1996 with 1,000 volunteers from the city evolved into a massive philanthropic undertaking. Now in its 29th year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the U.S. mark Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with acts of service.

The federal holiday on Monday, Jan. 15 will see a flurry of activity at Girard College, the Philly region’s signature site. This year, the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service will focus on the 60th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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“Sixty years after Dr. King led a movement to pass the landmark Civil Rights Act, efforts to reverse civil rights are ever present,” said Todd Bernstein, the founder and director of the event and the president of the nonprofit Global Citizen. The federal holiday is “not just a birthday celebration,” Bernstein stressed, but an “opportunity to make Dr. King’s legacy of social justice our mission, too.”

Girard College will host a mix of service projects, a jobs fair, a health and wellness fair and other family-friendly activities. Mural Arts Philadelphia will lead an art-making project related to voting rights and volunteers will assemble information packets to be disseminated to areas with historically low voter turnout.

Gun violence prevention continues to be a focus of the service hub event. At noon, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity’s 57 Blocks Project will lead a rally for peace and justice. At Girard College, volunteers will also help assemble hygiene kits for victims of gun violence.

The day will wrap up at 3 p.m. with the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 34th annual MLK Day tribute concert at the Girard College Chapel. Those interested in attending may reserve free tickets online.

An online portal organized by Global Citizen details hundreds of volunteer opportunities at the Girard College hub and throughout the Delaware Valley.

Here’s a look at a handful of Philly-based projects, and how you can get involved.

Learn and reflect

Friday, Jan. 12 – Monday, Jan. 15 | 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
701 Arch St., Philadelphia

On Friday, the African American Museum in Philadelphia will kick off MLK Day celebrations. The theme this year is “Shifting the Cultural Climate,” and it focuses on the “need to be change agents” in confronting a culture of violence and injustice, while celebrating the power of inspiring individual and collective change.

On Saturday and Sunday, the museum is hosting a slew of activities, including performances, meaningful discussions, family activities and access to exhibits. Those interested in attending may register online.

On Monday, Jan. 15, the museum will continue hosting a range of free MLK Day events. At 11 a.m. is a discussion that explores Philadelphia’s civil rights legacy, featuring local scholars and a Philly freedom fighter who marched alongside King.

At 2 p.m. there will be a family-friendly “color and talk” where guests can create their own masterpiece on what MLK’s legacy means to them, followed by a discussion about the power of art. Joining the festivities will be the Phillie Phanatic and a surprise Phillies player.

Those interested in attending AAMP events may register online.

Monday, Jan. 15 | 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
52027 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount will host an all-day event on Monday, Jan. 15 commemorating MLK Day. Guest speakers will read excerpts from King’s 1973 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and texts by other civil rights movement leaders impacted by incarceration. For children and their caregivers, the penitentiary will host storytime featuring children’s books written by and about civil rights leaders.

In-person programming is free for children under 12. Tickets are $17 for all other visitors and can be purchased online. Free online programming will be made available via Zoom.

Monday, Jan. 15 | 1 – 3 p.m.
The Liberty View at Independence Visitor Center

WHYY and NewCORE will host “Conversations of King: Hidden Faces Behind the Work,” a Community Conversation on King’s legacy and the role of women in the fight for civil rights.. Those interested in attending may register for free online.

Mayor Cherelle Parker will give remarks, and the conversation will be moderated by Cherri Greg, of WHYY’s “Studio 2.”

Join a community cleanup

Monday, Jan. 15 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
6060 Ardleigh St., Philadelphia

In Germantown, Awbury Arboretum staff and volunteers will prune invasive vines in the AdventureWoods, a 4-acre natural materials playground that sits behind the Arboretum’s Secret Garden.

Volunteers are asked to bring their own hand pruners and gloves. A limited number of gloves and tools will be available. Those interested in volunteering may register online.

Monday, Jan. 15 | 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Sweetbriar Mansion, 1 Sweetbriar Lane, Philadelphia

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Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation are teaming up to tackle invasive species, clean up sidewalks, and collect trash at Sweetbriar Mansion in West Fairmount Park. All tools, supplies and materials, including gloves, will be provided. Those interested in participating may register to volunteer online.

Monday, Jan. 15 | 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Location information provided post-registration

The Ray of Hope Project will host various cleanups across the city. Participants must wear  masks and gloves and social distance. Those interested in participating may register to volunteer online.

Monday, Jan. 15 | 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
701 Arch St., Philadelphia

The Schuylkill Center of Environmental Education will spend MLK Day working on projects aimed at protecting the health of our forests. Those interested may register to attend online.

Robert Thompson (left), his wife, Eri Mizukane, and their 6-year-old son, Eiji, clean up a North Philly lot
Robert Thompson (left), his wife, Eri Mizukane, and their 6-year-old son, Eiji, joined the MLK Day of service cleanup in North Philadelphia on Jan. 18, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Help Philadelphians in need

Monday, Jan. 15 | 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
1724 Christian St., Philadelphia

The Christian Street YMCA will be putting together blessing bags containing toiletries, hats, and socks for people experiencing homelessness. There will be a panel discussion on topics such as gun violence, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. Those interested in participating may sign up online.

Monday, Jan. 15 | 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
1900 York St., Philadelphia

Bethel Presbyterian Church will host a variety of volunteer opportunities to support the church’s Community Food Program. Volunteers can prepare and distribute food bags, clean up and help people transport food to their cars. Face masks are mandatory. Those interested in participating may sign up online.

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