Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day

As the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated across the U.S. on the third Monday in January each year. He envisioned a world in which people were not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. We’ve highlighted a handful of ways to use poetry to honor his legacy and continue the fight for racial justice in America.


Educate yourself on Black poetry

The work of Black poets is integral to the history of American poetry. Jupiter Hammon, Alice Walker, and Phillis Wheatley are just a few of the many influential Black poets who have played a part in shaping the artform. From the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement to today’s contemporary Black voices, there are over 200 years of Black poetry to explore. 


Use poetry as a vehicle for activism

It’s no secret that poetry has the power to fuel political change. In fact, poetry has helped shape many political movements in the U.S. W.E.B. Du Bois, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Amirki Baraka, and countless others have used writing to combat racism and oppression. Even if you don’t write a poem yourself, there are a number of ways to use poetry to fight for social justice


Support Black businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted Black writers and businesses across America. Your support matters more now than ever. Support Black businesses by buying from Black-owned bookstores. If you can’t browse in-person, consider shopping online through, where you can search for specific bookstores to support. If you want to take it a step further, explore some of the largest Black-owned publishing companies in the U.S. 


Support Black authors

Racial injustice has permeated every industry—and publishing is no exception. Writers of color have too long been under-published and underpaid, but you can make a difference. Between recommendations from Time Magazine and Oprah, there are at least 50 must-read books by Black authors in 2020 alone, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. See what new voices you can discover and support—from any year! 


Join a live program 

The Art Institute of Chicago will be hosting a King Day Virtual Performance: Rebirth Poetry Ensemble and In the Spirit. Tune in at 5 p.m. CT on Jan. 18 to watch live spoken word pieces from Zahra Baker and Emily Hooper Lansana. Their spoken-word pieces will respond to the exhibition Bisa Butler: Portraits, which features Bisa Butler’s intricate textile work that explores the complex history of community, migration, family, and intellectual legacy. 


In addition, the Adrienne Arsht Center will be live streaming Voices of Freedom: An Arsht Center Tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. ET. Performers include singer-songwriter Kaylan Arnold, poet Darius Daughtry, singer-songwriter Sherretta Ivey, and many more. 


Study the poetics of “I Have a Dream”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most powerful orators in our nation’s history, and it’s not by accident. If you’re interested in the mechanics of poetry and poetic speech patterns, take a look at his most iconic speech for inspiration. Dr. King makes artful and deliberate choices in rhythm, stressed and unstressed syllables, dramatic pauses, and so much more to make his message memorable. You can listen to his entire “I Have a Dream” speech on NPR or read it here.