How MLK Jr.-Inspired Associations Honor Dr. King Each Year

Across the country, in towns large and small, associations and nonprofits take a key role in honoring Martin Luther King Jr.—including on MLK Day.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a hugely important figure in American history, and one whose legacy ripples through modern culture as a whole.

That’s reflected through the holiday that celebrates King, of course—which happens on the third Monday of January each year, this year on January 16—but also through the organizational legacy he left behind.

Across the country, nonprofits and associations created in the legacy of King are pushing forth their missions and celebrating his life story by serving their local communities, especially around MLK Day.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the federal holiday, as Ronald Reagan signed it into law in fall 1983. (The holiday was then adopted by every state in 2000.)

Here are just a few examples of King-inspired organizations that carry the message of the civil rights icon both during MLK Day and throughout the year.

The King Center

Founded in 1968 by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, the Atlanta-based King Center embraces its role both as a memorial for the civil rights icon and a nonprofit that aims to serve King’s mission.

The organization, which maintains a museum along with the burial site of King and his wife, puts on a variety of events in Atlanta ahead of the holiday, including a community service project that encourages donations to unsheltered and homeless Atlanta residents and an annual commemorative service at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The King Center also maintains a glossary of nonviolence, which highlights phrasing associated with King and other figures in the nonviolence movement.

The Memorial Foundation

This organization, founded in 2011 to support the maintenance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, DC, celebrates King each year during its Day of Reflection and Reconciliation Ceremony, held at the memorial. It is the newest of the organizations on this list.

The organization also coordinates a fellowship program for those passionate about social justice, as well as a global leadership conference with a curriculum that’s targeted toward scholars who support his message.

The Philadelphia Martin Luther King, Jr. Association for Nonviolence

This association, founded in 1983 by local leaders in the city, along with Philadelphia-born civil rights icon Dr. C. Delores Tucker, has particularly strong ties to King due to his connection to the region, including his attendance at a Pennsylvania seminary.

The association puts on a variety of events for the holiday, with the most prominent being the National Bell Ringing Ceremony, in which the Liberty Bell is rung—a ceremony created at the behest of Coretta Scott King. The group organizes and provides funding for the annual event.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center

This Oakland, California-based nonprofit, founded in 1995, came to life as part of an initiative to build a large-scale West Coast presence in support of King’s work. The nonprofit was initially funded through a state law.

In its modern form, the center honors King through programs focusing on community youth and encouraging civic engagement across racial, ethnic, and cultural lines. The organization promotes the concept of “personal transformation through community participation.”

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Westfield, New Jersey

This nonprofit, dating to 1987, came together to help local residents celebrate the life of King. It holds annual events in his honor, including an interfaith service and a listening event for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

This association has also created a large-scale history project that tracks the history of Black Americans in the Westfield area dating back to 1720—the date of the town’s creation.

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force

This Southeast Michigan nonprofit has held an annual peace walk in its home base of Southfield, Michigan, every year since 1986—and will do so again this year, focusing on King’s global impact.

Beyond the peace walk, the organization has created an in-depth educational offering, Pathways to Freedom in the Americas, which associates how slaves escaped to freedom in both the Detroit area as well as Guerrero, Mexico.

Martin Luther King Jr., center, shown at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. (National Archives)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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