Home Culture MLK Day 2023: History, Events, + Ways to Give Back in NJ

MLK Day 2023: History, Events, + Ways to Give Back in NJ

by Cristina Lombardi
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MLK Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year and this year it falls on January 16, 2023. Similar to Presidents Day, it’s easy to regard this as a day off from school, from work, or enjoyed as a long weekend to catch up on chores. However, it’s important to take a step back and pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the principles for which he lived and died. This national holiday not only celebrates the life and contributions of Dr. King himself but the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. Similarly, another important component of this federal holiday is “The Day of Service,” which encourages all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities, mirroring the teachings of social justice embraced by Martin Luther King, Jr. There are plenty of incredible ways to get involved and pay honor to MLK in North Jersey this weekend. Keep reading for a brief history of MLK, his local ties to NJ as well as events happening in the area.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.  He is best known as a Baptist minister and social activist who led the civil rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. His leadership was fundamental to ending the legal segregation of African Americans in the South and other parts of the country. MLK rose to national prominence as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which promoted nonviolent tactics. Undoubtedly the most popular and influential movement was the massive March on Washington in 1963 Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The Civil Rights Act was passed a year later in 1964 and was then awarded the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after.  He is considered one of the greatest orators of modern times, and his speeches still inspire many to this day.  

Read More: A Historical Walking Tour of Jersey City Heights

Did You Know?

  • King’s Birth Name Was Michael, Not Martin
  • King Entered College at the Age of 15
  • King Received His Doctorate in Systematic Theology
  • King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech Was Not His First at the Lincoln Memorial
  • King Was Imprisoned Nearly 30 Times
  • George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Cesar Chavez are the Only Other Americans to Have Had Their Birthdays Observed as a National Holiday
  • MLK was the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
  • There are over 730 streets in the United States named after Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

MLK’s Ties to New Jersey

According to CityofJerseyCity.org, Dr. King spoke at least twice in Jersey City in the ’60s.  On September 21st, 1965, he received an honorary Doctor of Law from St. Peter’s College. Upon his reception, he gave a speech called “The American Dream” to over 500 people during the annual Michaelmas Convocation — a much-photographed event, and even televised, as Dr. King spoke out against segregation and for equality.  Unfortunately, the MLK Jr. Papers Project at Stanford reported it doesn’t have a transcription of the speech, but there are many historical references to its occurrence, including this photo. From first and second-hand accounts, it was noted that he said, “The time is always now,” and postured that legislation is an important part of the civil rights battle. He was also quoted saying that “although legislation could not change a person’s ideas, it could regulate his behavior and restrain the heartlessness.”  Citing his own non-violent forms of resistance, he condemned the violence and said it created more problems than it solved, foreseeing a world in which “there will be a symphony of brotherhood.” A world, “where all of god’s children, white and black, Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Gentile, will be free at last.”

The second time Dr. King came to Hudson County was Wednesday, March 27th, 1968 which was less than seven days before his assassination. At this visit, he spoke in front of over 2,000 people at Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church.  In another noteworthy instance in D.C., King was photographed with Jersey City police officer Charles Jackson during a speech. Officer Jackson was hired as a security coordinator to assist with the event in our nation’s capital.  Today on MLK Boulevard in Jersey City, there stands a large bust of Dr. King.  

Local MLK Day Events

In addition to local events and happenings in New Jersey that one can attend, ‘The Jersey Cares Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service’ engages people across the state to embody Dr. King’s vision. It strives to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together while strengthening their communities and building a stronger New Jersey. Volunteers across the state will come together to honor Dr. King’s legacy through a variety of projects. Keep reading for a full list of events, happenings, and ways to get involved. 

Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Brooklyn Museum | 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn

Saturday, January 14 | 10AM – 5PM 

Celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through interactive performances, protest marches, community art programs, and volunteer projects! Each day features shadow puppet performances and puppet-making with Nehprii Amenii, poster-making and protest marching with Brooklyn-based musician Fyütch, and the creation of a community dream cloud in BCM’s ColorLab art studio. 

The Martin Luther King “We Won’t Go Back” March | 495 Drive, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Newark

Sunday, January 15 | 2PM

The Martin Luther King Jr. “We Won’t Go Back” March and Rally will be held Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m., beginning at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Newark. The event is sponsored by the People’s Organization for Progress. The group has held this march observing King’s birthday annually for nearly 35 years.

Community Day: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at The Newark Museum of Art | 49 Washington St, Newark, NJ

Monday, January 16 | 12PM – 5PM

Honor Martin Luther King, Jr. with dynamic performances, hands-on activities, and opportunities to help others. There’s something for the whole family. Visitors are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to support a local food bank, women’s shelter, or church. This is a free event. For more information, visit: Website/Registration

Jersey Cares Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service — “I Have A Dream” Walk at Millburn High School Track | 462 Millburn Ave, Millburn, NJ

Monday, January 16 | 10AM – 12PM

Come together in solidarity to support the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and social justice causes by walking 2 miles or running a 5k. 50% of all funds raised for this project support the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Registration for this project is free. This event is appropriate for ages 4+. Visit here: Registration

NJCU Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. CelebrationatNew Jersey City University | 2039 JFK Blvd, Jersey City

Thursday, January 19th | 1PM – 2:30PM 

This event features Keynote Speaker Dr. Aishah Scott who will be jointly appointed to Assistant Professor of Black Studies and Health Science at Providence College. She is an advocate for social justice and closing gaps in healthcare for underrepresented communities. There will also be Scholarship awards. Web Site

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 34th Annual Commemorative Breakfast st Sheraton Eatontown Hotel | 6 Industrial Way East, Eatontown

Friday, January 13 | 7:30AM – 9:30AM

The YMCA of Greater Monmouth County proudly celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at their 34th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Breakfast in his honor. Please join in as they grow awareness and support for the important work of Dr. King and today’s civic leaders. Cost: Event tickets are $35 for adults, $10 for youth who are 16 & under, and $350 for a table of 10. 

Kit Assembly at Franklin Elementary School | 1809 St Georges Ave, Rahway

Monday, January 16th |  9AM – 12PM

Volunteers will create a variety of kits to support nonprofits and schools throughout the state to support community members. Kits include First Responder Kits, Garden Kits, and First Night Kits with No-Sew Fleece Blankets. All kits will include creative components as well as kit-packing activities. Registration for this project is free. This event is appropriate for ages 4+. The last day to register for this project is Thursday, January 12th. Visit the website here to register.

Kit Assembly at Jersey Cares Office Building | 290 West Mount Pleasant Avenue, Livingston

Monday, January 16th, 9AM – 12PM

Volunteers will create a variety of kits to support nonprofits and schools throughout the state to support community members. Kits include First Responder Kits, Garden Kits, and First Night Kits with No-Sew Fleece Blankets. All kits will include creative components as well as kit-packing activities. Registration for this project is FREE. This event is appropriate for ages 4+. Please click here to register.

Care of the Park in Branch Brook Park, 115 Clifton Ave, Newark, NJ 07104

Monday, January 16th | 10AM- 2PM

Volunteers will help beautify Branch Brook Park in Newark by removing the invasive Phragmitie plant from areas of the park. This opportunity is held outside, so please dress warm. Registration for this project is free. This event is appropriate for ages 12+. Please click here to register.

2023 I Have a Dream 1M 5K 10K 13.1 26.2- Benefitting Equal Justice Initiative (Virtual)

January 2023, Virtual Event 

To honor his accomplishments, we are happy to continue our “I Have A Dream” virtual running events. This 2022 virtual race can be completed any time in January, from anywhere, and at your own pace. The registration fee includes a race medal and bib, plus a portion of the fee will be put towards helping the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American Society. Registration Fee: $19.99 (includes a medal, bib, and a portion donated to EJI)

Volunteer with Jersey Cares

Virtual Card Making

Monday, January 16th | 11AM – 12PM

Volunteers will create electronic cards including pictures and inspirational quotes for veterans to thank them for their service to our country. Registration for this project is free. This project is appropriate for ages 4+. Please click here to register.

Virtual Senior Winter Warmth Kits

Monday, January 16th | 10AM- 11AM

Volunteers will create no-sew fleece scarves, decorating materials, and write a note to be donated alongside comfort items for senior residents from care facilities across NJ. Registration for this project is $30 if you would like to pick up supplies at the Jersey Cares office or $40 to have supplies shipped to your address. This project is appropriate for ages 10+.  Please click here to register.

Virtual STEM Kits

Monday, January 16th | 10AM- 11AM

Volunteers will decorate materials, assemble instructions, and write a note to be donated alongside at-home STEM experiments for public school students across NJ. Registration for this project is $30 if you would like to pick up supplies at the Jersey Cares office or $40 to have supplies shipped to your address. This project is appropriate for ages 10+. Please click here to register.

Virtual Chopped Challenge Workshop

Monday, January 16th | 9AM- 10:30AM

Volunteers will participate in a Hunger Simulation Icebreaker to understand the difficulties of feeding a family on a limited budget and create custom recipes for economically disadvantaged families using food commonly found in inner city convenience and grocery stores.  Registration for this project is free.  This project is appropriate for ages 14+. Please click here to register.

Read More: A List of Black-Owned Businesses to Support in Montclair + Bloomfield

Virtual Understanding Homelessness Workshop

Monday, January 16th | 10:30AM- 12PM

Volunteers will participate in a simulation to understand the situations that can lead to experiencing homelessness and create custom “You Matter” cards to uplift individuals and build their self-worth and esteem to be donated alongside hygiene kits created at in-person MLK Day of Service projects. Registration for this project is FREE. This project is appropriate for ages 14+.  Please click here to register.

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