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From clean-ups to donations, thoughtful ways to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Honoring the life and legacy of the nation's most important civil rights activist has a template depending on what kind of observer you'd like to be.

There are parades and festivals for families, community service activities for young people and keynote breakfasts and church services for civic leader types.

All are fine ways to celebrate the 30th Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Local entities fill up our calendars annually with fun and fulfilling ways to spend the second national holiday of the year.

But you get three whole days to observe. Why not do something a little different this year?

I took a close study of King's life and came up with several respectful and reverent activities for the holiday weekend that capture the spirit of the man who dedicated his brief life to ending American apartheid.

Many factors brought him to the place where he was able to say the words, "Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love."

King's education spanned from the classroom to the streets of India and helped him stand as a spokesperson for several movements that changed the face of America.

In reflection on his life, here are 10 off-template ways to spend your MLK weekend — and maybe learn a little bit about the man himself in the process.

Ditch your ride


A PSTA bus leaves bus terminal at 3180 Central Avenue. Ride the bus in honor of King this holiday.

Martin Luther King Jr. got his start with civil rights activism as the spokesperson for the Montgomery Bus Boycott ignited by Rosa Parks and executed to give everyone the right to equal treatment by government entities. So, pick a day this weekend to be chauffeured by the drivers paid with your tax dollars. Sit anywhere you'd like. For schedule and rout information for Pinellas County, visit Hillsborough schedules and fares are at

Rent 'Gandhi'

Columbia Pictures, 1983

The early leader of non-violent rebellion was an inspiration for King.

The idea of non-violent rebellion didn't drop out of the clear blue sky. King cited the movement of Mahatma Gandhi as a huge inspiration for his approach, and he even traveled to India to learn more about Gandhi's accomplishments. Learn a little more about the hero of a hero by renting the Oscar-, BAFTA- and Golden Globe-winning 1982 film. It's now available on YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, and Google Play for $2.99.

Read 'Born to Rebel' by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

You know who else King looked up to? His university president from his undergraduate days at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Learn a little about the man who shaped the man by cozying up with Mays' autobiography. Local library systems in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have copies available, and it's also for sale through online retailers starting at about $11.

Register to vote

Bloody Sunday and the march from Selma to Montgomery were all about tax-paying citizens fighting against being disenfranchised at the polls. The best way to honor King and others who died in the civil rights movement is to register to vote and then actually follow through in November. To register, print the form available here: Then just fill it out and mail it to your local supervisor of elections. Easy peasy.

Clean up

When King was shot on the Lorraine Motel balcony in Memphis, he was there in support of a sanitation workers demonstration for better labor conditions and equal pay. These essential community members are often overlooked. King traveled several times to support sanitation workers and various other unions fighting for improved conditions. Let's honor that sentiment.

Go back to school

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had to go to three separate schools to amass those titles, and he never stopped learning in his life. Whether you catch the lecture of Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal of Hip-Hop, Civil Rights and Social Media at Pasco Hernando State College or rapper Michael "Killer Mike" Render's lecture at the University of South Florida, visit your local colleges and learn a little about how the past has changed the world today. Render will speak at the USF Marshall Student Center, 4103 USF Cedar Circle in Tampa, at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Neal will give five lectures over Wednesday and Jan. 21 at various Pasco-Hernando State College locations. For addresses and schedules, visit

Rally for a cause

The lasting legacy of King's life as a organizer can be summed up in the words "March on Washington." As keynote speaker, he made his famous "I have a dream" speech at the march, but more importantly he got a nation fired up about making a change that would improve the lives of fellow men. The people of St. Petersburg are trying to get a community fired up at 1 p.m. Sunday for a Stop the Violence March at Silver Lake Park, 13th Street and 11th Avenue S. Interested participants can contact (727) 557-6209. On Saturday, aid workers fundraising to build a permanent home for victims of child sex trafficking are holding Jammin' for Freedom, a celebration at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park Park, 601 Old Water St. in downtown Tampa. Pause for a cause this weekend and lend your strength to the members of your community still struggling.

Donate food and clothes

On the heels of successes in fighting for civil rights, King was pivoting toward another group being crushed by the disparities of America. The Poor People's Campaign would have concluded with its own March on Washington had King lived, but he was assassinated before that dream could come to fruition. Economic disparities and food insecurity are still large problems in America's infrastructure. Cleaning your closets and picking up a few extra food items at the grocery store for donation is a great way to honor the memory of a man who spent his life trying to improve the lives of others. To find clothing donation centers, visit, or A list of local food banks can be found at

Enjoy your freedom


Parade participants march down 7th Ave. during the Tampa Pride Parade in Ybor City on Saturday, March 28, 2015. This was the first gay pride parade in 13 years.

King understood the value of a person was predicated on his works, not who he chose to love. That's why he bucked controversy and named Bayard Rustin, a former communist and known homosexual, as a close advisor and deputy director of the 1963 March on Washington. Many of the civil rights struggles in the past two decades have involved the LGBT community, and the Pride movement. Tampa PRIDE will hosts its Miss Tampa PRIDE drag pageant gearing up for the parade in March. The multiple struggles it took to make this party possible is enough reason to go out and bear witness. Doors open at 6 p.m. Sunday at The Honey Pot, 1507 E Seventh Ave. in Tampa. Tickets are $10 at the door. Visit for details.

Set off some fireworks

Shoot off some fireworks this year. King got a Peace Prize from the organization of Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite.

You've got some left over from New Year's Eve anyway, and no one ever said MLK Day had to be a solemn occasion. After all, he got a Peace Prize from the organization of Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite.

From clean-ups to donations, thoughtful ways to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day 01/12/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2016 11:22am]
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