MLK Day: Offering Rest as a Form of Resistance

Offering Rest as a Form of Resistance: Rethinking the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Amid Nonprofit Exploitation

When MLK Day was signed into law in 1983, leaders excited to honor King’s legacy declared it a day of service. Even now, nonprofits proudly assign their staff to other nonprofits on the holiday to presumably remind them of the importance of King’s work. This can be extremely harmful particularly to overworked, underpaid, and often majority-Black organizations. Below are tips for observing MLK Day by extending to BIPOC, disabled people, queer folks, women, and other exploited groups what we really need: rest.

  • Let Holidays be Holidays—We never hear of nonprofits requiring employees to volunteer at other charities on Christmas. Why should MLK Day be any different? The point of a holiday is offering people reprieve. Leaders do well to honor that. And while we’re at it, we should also keep in mind the following few points:
  • The Struggle ContinuesFor BIPOC, queer, disabled people, and women, the work doesn’t end when we clock out. What we confront for others through our professions is also present in our own lives. It follows us off the clock to the parking lot as overcharged insurance; into traffic as police cars and gas prices; through our neighborhoods as junk food, closed schools, and foreclosed homes; and into an inaccessible world largely intolerable of us. We don’t need to be reminded of the importance of King’s work. Our lives won’t let us forget. Many of us chose our careers to address the issues impacting us. So, sometimes we just need a break!
  • Give ThanksIf MLK Day feels too special to treat like a regular holiday, do something especially nice for groups being marginalized. We are closest to the issues, work the hardest, get paid the least, and feel most often unappreciated. Bonuses, free tickets, and gift cards go a long way during holidays. But nothing beats genuine acknowledgement of our contributions, especially on MLK Day. Assemble a committee to figure out how to express thanks.
  • Share Updates on Opportunities to Connect with OthersSome people enjoy spending the weekend gathering with others, learning, and being inspired. Post a list of happenings for employees to consider. But be clear participation is optional. Do not track attendance!
  • Check YourselfWhether you are white, male, straight, and nondisabled or BIPOC, woman, queer, and disabled, you may be exploiting marginalized peoples. This is because we all have implicit biases that cause us unknowingly to recreate the oppressive systems we seek to dismantle. Therefore, refusing to make people work on a holiday culturally important as MLK Day is in and of itself a noteworthy form of resistance.
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