January 17th marks the 36th year Americans have celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and if you're in Salt Lake, there are many great and meaningful ways to observe it. With a rally and march, a celebration of local black artists, a film screening and a book discussion about racism, speakers, and most importantly, opportunities for service in the community, the legacy of Dr. King can be observed locally through many powerful events.
In 1961, Dr. King made a brief stop in Salt Lake to speak at the University of Utah about the civil rights movement. When the federal government created MLK Day in 1986 (the only official federal holiday commemorating a Black American), Utah initially adopted the day as "Human Rights Day," and then formally recognized the day as a way to honor Dr. King in 2000. Additionally, Dr. King has been recognized in Utah through other means as well, including the establishment of the state government's Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission in 1991, the renaming of an important Salt Lake thoroughfare (600 South) to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and in 2021, the addition of an MLK-themed Utah license plate.
MLK Day Events & Activities
Many of the events surrounding the holiday this year are being presented by the University of Utah's Office of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion during MLK Week from January 15-21. With a theme of "Becoming the Beloved Community," in reference to Dr. King's speech about the "beloved community" being a just society where love and trust are the rule and do not allow for violence, fear, and hatred.
Some of those events are:
MLK Day Rally & March
- January 17 - 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm - from East High School to Kingsbury Hall
MLK Evening with the Arts
- January 18 - 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm - Marriott Center for Dance - Music, art, poetry, dance, all performed by local black artists.
Film Screening & Discussion - "The Last Black Man in San Francisco"
- January 19 - 5:00 pm - 7:30 pm - The Post Theater
Book Discussion - "Nice Racism"
- January 20 - 8:00 am - 9:00 am - Virtual Event
MLK Week Keynote: Derreck Kayongo
January 21 - 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm - Virtual or at O.C. Tanner Ballroom (Alumni House)
Other University of Utah events include panel discussions with members and leaders in the black community titled "Becoming the Beloved Community: Alberta Henry & Black Life in SLC," and "2045: Towards a More Diverse Future."
Also on January 17 is the NAACP Salt Lake Branch's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Luncheon, beginning at 11:00 am at the Little America Hotel Ballroom. The organization's annual awards will be presented to those whose community service has been above and beyond. This event is ticketed.
MLK Day Service Opportunities
In 1994, in addition to the already officially recognized holiday, Congress designated Martin Luther King Day a national day of service. What better way to honor Dr. King's life and legacy than by encouraging citizens to volunteer in their own communities?
Offical MLK service opportunities happening include:
MLK Saturday Service Project
- January 15 - 9:00 am - 12:30 pm - Also presented by the University of Utah, this project includes multiple opportunities throughout the community. Due to the current COVID situation, the in-person projects have been cancelled, but there are self-directed and virtual service opportunities as well.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service at Thanksgiving Point
- January 17 - 10:00 am - 3:00 pm - Museum of Natural Curiosity - Assemble food kits for children and families in need in the community.
Other Service Opportunities
- Donate service, money, or goods to an organization you care about that will improve the lives of members of your community, especially members of the black community.
- Find other ways to volunteer at Volunteer.gov.
Support Salt Lake's Black Community
Lastly, an excellent way to remember the remarkable work of Dr. King is to show support to Salt Lake's Black and BIPOC communities, whether that is businesses, organizations, or individuals. Volunteer or donate to organizations dedicated to improving the community: consider helping out places like the Utah Black Chamber, NAACP Salt Lake Branch, Racially Just Utah, ACLU Utah, SURJ, United Africans of Utah, and more. Look here for a list of Black-owned companies to support.