Committed to serve: MLK Day events planned throughout Metro Detroit

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Imagine a world where celebrating the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't just a one-day holiday in January but a resetting point.

That's what Rochelle Riley would like to see. Riley, Detroit's director of arts and culture, said there's still considerable work to be done to achieve King's dream. It's great for people to recite King's famous, "I Have a Dream" speech," but it's better to do what he did, she said.

"Fight what he fought and died for and just use his birthday as a day to recommit yourself to being what he was," said Riley, who will be part of an MLK Day celebration this year at the Detroit Historical Museum.

Celebrations are planned across Metro Detroit to mark MLK Day on Monday and carry on his legacy, marking what would've been King's 87th birthday this Saturday. And many organizers say King's call to serve those in need resonates even more this year as the pandemic drags on.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. The march was organized to support proposed civil rights legislation and end segregation.

But with case levels in Michigan at their highest point in months, only some events will be in person. Others have switched to a virtual format; some have been organized to minimize crowds. 

The Detroit Historical Museum, for example, is offering free admission all day Monday along with programming for kids and families. This year's theme, "Give Us the Ballot," will feature a mock election for kids, a Renaissance High School choir performance, and a discussion about the importance of voting. Riley will discuss her children's book, "That They Lived."

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, meanwhile, is holding a virtual celebration with video presentations beginning at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday. This year's keynote speaker is former U.S. Ambassador and civil rights icon, Andrew Young.

The Detroit Phoenix Center held an MLK Day of service in 2021, assembling "resilient kits" for the youth and families it serves.

Riley urges others to make sure King's life meant something. It's not about modeling King's behavior; rather, it's "being your best self to make every American feel welcome," she said.

"Whatever way you can do it — whether it's making sure that you listen to someone who says they've been mistreated or you speak up when you see something happening, or just being more caring. He cared about everybody else more than himself," said Riley. "And in the end, he paid for it with his life."

Below are some other MLK Day events planned throughout the weekend.


Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest: A free jazz concert celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by the Michigan State University College of Music. 3 p.m. at the Fairchild Theatre, 542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing.


MLK Day 2022: Give Us the Ballot: A free day of programming from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Detroit Historical Museum in partnership with Black Historic Sites Committee. The Renaissance High School choir will perform, along with a spoken word performance by Aleca Gleser, a mock election for kids and cupcakes between 1:30-2 p.m. Go to and click on "Museum events."

Drive for Freedom, Justice and Equity: 10 a.m. drive leaving from Hope United Methodist Church, 26275 Northwestern Highway, Southfield. Capacity is limited to first 250 cars; registration is required. Virtual program is at 1 p.m.

A Day On, Not a Day Off: 9:30 a.m. free joint virtual and in-person event by Berkley, Royal Oak and their school districts to remember and honor Dr. King. Detroit Youth Choir will perform during virtual event. Freedom Walk begins at 10:30 a.m. at Royal Oak Middle School. 

Mass for Justice and Peace: 11 a.m. mass at Detroit's Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, 9844 Woodward, to pray for peace, justice and continued progress on race relations and the work begun by Dr. King.

Virtual MLK Day Event at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History: Video presentations at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to celebrate Dr. King's past work and strive to continue his legacy. Former United Nations Ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young is this year's keynote speaker. Registration isn't required.

Oakland University's 30th Annual Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Awards Celebration: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Oakland University's O'Rena with Emmy nominated actor Anthony Anderson of "black-ish" as this year's keynote speaker.

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis: 1 p.m. at the Detroit Institute of Arts' Detroit Film Theatre of Oscar-nominated 1970 film directed by Richard Kaplan. Restored to its original full-length by the Library of Congress, it features rare footage of Dr. King's speeches, protests and more. Free.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration: A variety of activities planned by Farmington Public Schools, Farmington Public Library, Community Equity Organization and others. A march will be held at 11 a.m. starting at the library down 12 Mile. Virtual discussions will also be held about diversity, equity and inclusion.

MLK Day City of Detroit programming: Daylong programming on the city of Detroit's cable channel 22, Facebook page and YouTube channel, including an interview with City Historian Jamon Jordan, Dance Theatre of Harlem Director Virginia Johnson and Detroit artist Jonathan Harris.