More than a day off school

Martin Luther King Jr. Day – January 17

During his time, Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at 35 years old.

Library of Congress

During his time, Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at 35 years old.

Maya Adimora, Beyond the Gates editor

Mark your calendars for January 17 because there’s no school that day. People get an extra day of sleeping in and relaxing at home, but that’s not the purpose of the holiday. It is, officially, a day of service.

It is important to recognize why much of the United States has the day off. Since 1986, Americans have taken the third Monday in January to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements, hence the name. 

According to Britannica,  Martin Luther King Jr. “first came to national prominence during a bus boycott by African-Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.” From there, King became a well-known leader of the Civil Rights movement. Despite the hatred he faced, he always advocated for peaceful protests.

He delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, a.k.a. The Great March on Washington, to advocate for African-Americans’ civil and economic rights. Without him, the Civil Rights of Act of 1964, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made it easier for African Americans and other minorities to vote, would never have been passed. ( For his efforts against racism, King received the Nobel Peace Prize on October 14, 1964. 4 years later, he was assassinated outside his motel room in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

It wouldn’t be until 1986 that Congress would recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday.  The reason why we celebrate it on a Monday, and not King’s actual birthday, is because the holiday follows the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The purpose of it was to place holidays like  Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day (eventually moved back) to “increase the number of three-day weekends for federal employees.” (

One way to honor King is to spend the day serving others. According to, the holiday is an official day of service and provides you with an option to commit to those types of activities. Finding ways to unite us rather than divide us was one of King’s goals and on Monday, January 17, it can also be one of yours. Take advantage of this opportunity by signing up for the day and, perhaps, for a lifetime of giving back to the community and the individuals who make it up.