Home » MLK » Martin Luther King Day of Service

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

MLK Day of Service at Penn

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service at Penn attracts over 400 student, staff, faculty, alumni and community volunteers. The list of projects include:

  • Day of Service Breakfast for Volunteers with Keynote Address
  • Community Beautifications Projects
  • Penn Reads Literacy Project
  • Helping Hands - socks with toiletry items inside
  • A Pocketful of Toiletries – constructing a bag and filling with toiletries
  • Children’s Banner Painting
  • Finding Your Path to STEM – for high school students
  • Class of '80/Sayre Mentoring Program

History of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

The first national King holiday was observed in 1986, eighteen years after Dr. King’s death. In 1988, appalled by the lack of commitment and understanding of Dr. Kings’ lifetime of service to others, Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry Harris Wofford, and his executive assistant, Todd Bernstein realized the national observance was becoming for millions just another day off. These two men decided to organize a day of service—a day with the theme, “A Day On not A Day Off.”

Yolanda King with her father Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with his daughter Yolanda King. (Photo by James Karales)

In 1996, in conjunction with the Greater Philadelphia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the University of Pennsylvania added this Annual Day of Service to the celebrations already being coordinated by the African-American Resource Center throughout campus.

In 2001, the University’s then president, Dr Judith Rodin made the King holiday an official University day off to allow students and staff to participate in service activities. 

Initially, the Day of Service activity, consisted of a group of volunteers cleaning and painting at a community site. Typical sites were schools, social service agencies and recreational facilities in West Philadelphia. After several years, plans were made by the Day of Service Planning Committee to expand the number and type of service projects to include indoor activities suitable to families with young children, seasoned citizens and the physically challenged.

Through radio, television and print media knowledge about the breath and variety of service projects sponsored by the University became widespread. Community members beyond the University and the West Philadelphia community began to join the projects. 

It is not enough to know that two and two makes four, but we've got to know somehow that it's right to be honest and just with our brothers. It's not enough to know all about our philosophical and mathematical disciplines, but we've got to know the simple disciplines of being honest and loving and just with all humanity. If we don't learn it, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own powers.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Address at the Fiftieth Anual NAACP Convention, 17 July 1959, New York.