As the holiday commemorating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. approaches, many congregations and faith-based organizations will join with schools and nonprofits to uplift the priorities and values we share: service, kindness, and community. For those seeking a fresh approach to supporting young people in authentic ways that honor the Rev. Dr. King’s legacy, I encourage exploring lesser-known aspects of his advocacy and spiritual practice that may also provide rich opportunities for growth and contemporarily relevant meaning on “MLK Day.” Here are three potential areas of learning and service that are accessibly available on The King Center’s website, thekingcenter.org:
- Discuss what King referred to as the Triple Evils: poverty, racism, and militarism. These are currently interpreted as inclusive terms related to the effects of poverty such as homelessness and illiteracy, racism as one of the many forms of prejudice that can also include ageism and sexism and homophobia, and militarism as using force or violence in ways that endanger others such as human trafficking and gun violence. Explore where these evils show up in your community and who is actively working to do something about them. Research possible historical causes for their local presence and proposed solutions students can be part of.
- Explore the Six Principles of Nonviolence such as how nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice or that nonviolence is particularly a way of life for courageous people. There is a wealth of biblical support, particular in the examples of Jesus’ adult ministry and the acts of the apostles, that could partner each principle with short passages or memory verses. There is also a wonderful opportunity to engage with students how they might connect these principles with their own values and how they can live into each principle in their home, school, or congregation.
- Review the Six Steps of Nonviolent Social Change, which are active steps individuals or groups of people can take to support nonviolence in their community. The steps include actions such as personal commitment, direct action, and reconciliation. The Six Steps can be a helpful launchpad for spiritual practices, meaningful service following a model of accompaniment and partnership, advocacy that addresses root causes as well as symptoms, and rules of life that are important for faith formation.
The lasting impact of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ministry was significantly due to God-centeredness of motivation, reliance on cooperative effort, strategic and long-term planning, and a commitment to practical action. While it can be tempting to dwell in King’s quotable messages and powerful sermons for a single day, I urge you to support your children and youth in going deeper. How can youth leaders, and the children and youth they support, empower congregations for strategic and long-term change that reflects the need and desires of marginalized people in the community? This is the work that truly honors King’s legacy.