Cambridge is again among roughly 100 cities holding days of service Jan. 16 to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Activities include making bookmarks for literary programs and Valentine's Day cards for Cambridge elders and members of the military, as city councillor Ken Reeves and Sharon Herman are doing. (Photo, bottom: Randy H. Goodman)

In Cambridge, Martin Luther King Day is not just a day off. The city’s Peace Commission and Many Helping Hands group have planned events that make it easy for people to not just recognize the contributions and call to action by King — but to actually take action.

The free events start at noon Jan. 16, with a “Celebration of Dr. King’s Life and Work for Peace, Justice and Transformation” in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 838 Massachusetts Ave., said Brian Corr, executive director of the Peace Commission. The celebration allows people to hear King’s words spoken again so they can understand why they’re as relevant, if not more relevant, now as they were before King was assassinated. As Corr noted:

In 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King described the most serious threat to American society. In his words, “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“More than 40 years later, the United States still faces these three existential challenges to our values as a nation,” Corr said.

There will be brief remarks by Pete Davis, a Harvard student who participated in a reenactment of the 1961 Freedom Rides in connection with a recent PBS film, as well as light refreshments, and after a 15-minute break, an informal lunch and gathering is to take place at 2 p.m. in the church’s basement.

Some may not get to enjoy that lunch, though, before they have to rush off:

Another event begins at 1:30 p.m. on the steps of City Hall, only a minute’s walk away toward Central Square at 795 Massachusetts Ave., where gospel singer Valerie Stephens and the city’s Poet Populist, Toni Bee, will be performing to welcome people checking in for the Second Annual Cambridge MLK Day of Service.

Cambridge is among 100 cities nationwide holding such events, then mayor David Maher said Dec. 16 as he announced the city’s involvement.

The first such event included more than 400 volunteers taking part in projects on behalf of the city’s homeless, homebound elderly, children, families, veterans and servicemen and women. Because of the size of the event — organizers said they were astonished by how many people showed up last year — participants should register in advance, no matter whether they’ll be working all the way from 2:15 to 5 p.m. or for a shorter time, said the group’s Elizabeth Bartle.

The work will be done in the nearby YWCA, 7 Temple St., and Cambridge Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave. There will also be a “volunteer expo to find out where you can help out the other 364 days” of the year, Bartle said.

Projects include:
  • Making fleece scarves and blankets for at-risk infants, children and homeless adults.
  • Making bookmarks for readers in adult literacy programs at the Public Library and Community Learning Center.
  • Creating Valentine’s Day cards for Cambridge elders and members of the military.
  • Making emergency room activity kits for children waiting at Cambridge Hospital and Mount Auburn Hospital during medical crises.

Participants are also asked not arrive empty-handed.

“On MLK Day we’ll also collect foods, books, and warm winter clothing. All contributions will be sorted, boxed, and will go directly to Cambridge community partner organizations. Can you bring something to share?” organizers asked, highlighting the need for nonperishable, shelf-stable  food items to benefit Cambridge food pantries; children’s books to benefit literacy programs in local schools, after-schools and pediatric offices; and winter clothing such as mittens, gloves, scarves, coats and socks for Cambridge adults and children in need, including the homeless and shelter residents.

For information on the day’s events contact the Peace Commission at (617) 349.4694 or peace@cambridgema.gov and Many Helping Hands via its website.

Other events in honor of King have been gathered by the city here.

This post took significant amounts of information from press releases.

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Please consider making a financial contribution to maintain, expand and improve Cambridge Day.
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