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How Martin Luther King Day became a holiday and what these organizations are doing to celebrate


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IDAHO FALLS – More than 200,000 demonstrators gathered in the nation’s capital to make a stand for jobs and freedom. It was August 28, 1963, a day that has become historic not just for being one of the largest gatherings for civil rights of its time, but also because of the words spoken by the man behind it all — Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” King said as he began his remarks to the crowd.

Generations have grown up hearing about his words in schools across the country. Many are familiar with portions of that speech, including the oft-quoted line, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

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Monday marks 58 years since the events of that day. The campaign for a holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968, but it would be another 15 years before it became a federal holiday.

USA Today reports President Ronald Reagan signed a bill on Nov. 3, 1983, designating the third Monday in January Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The first nationwide observance didn’t occur until January 20, 1986. In some states, it is celebrated with marches, parades and speeches by civil rights and political leaders. Schools nationwide do not hold classes in honor of the man who became the face of the Civil Rights movement.

In January 2006, then Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne designated the same day Human Rights Day for residents of the Gem State.

In 1994, U.S. Congress passed The King Holiday and Service Act to dedicate it as a national day of service.

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In that spirit, businesses and organizations throughout eastern Idaho will be hosting several events on Jan. 17 to commemorate the occasion.

Idaho State University

Idaho State University in Pocatello will kick off a week of service and reflection beginning with a virtual presentation on its Youtube channel. The presentation will include music, video and remarks by University President Kevin Satterlee, Office of Equity and Inclusion Associate Director Henry Evans and keynote speaker Kaia Rhodes.

From Jan. 17-28, the Idaho State Diversity Resource Center, Office of the Dean of Students and Bengal Service Corps are partnering to collect needed items to donate to the Southeast Idaho Behavioral Crisis Center. Donation bins will be in the Student Union Building by the Campus Connection Desk, in the Rendezvous near the Diversity Resource Center and in Reed Gym. The following items are needed:

  • paper plates
  • plastic utensils
  • napkins
  • paper coffee cups
  • coffee filters
  • new clothing-plain T-shirts, sweat pants, socks, underwear
  • towels
  • new bedding-twin size bottom and top sheets, pillow cases, pillows, blankets

On Wednesday, Jan. 19 and Thursday Jan. 20, “A Night in Miami” will show at the Bengal Theater at 7 p.m. The movie is free for ISU students, $2 for faculty, staff and children under 12, and $3 for the general public.

On Thursday, Jan. 20 at noon, Kenneth Monroe, president of the Pocatello chapter of the NAACP, will present on the topic, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: A Legacy of Service Continued,” on Zoom. Registration is required.

The Idaho Foodbank

The Idaho Foodbank in Pocatello will also be hosting volunteers for a service project. Nearly 200 volunteers across the state will be working to fill backpacks for The Idaho Foodbank’s Backpack Program, which focuses on filling a backpack full of nutritious, kid-friendly food.

This event happens every Friday during the school year and the idea is to make sure students who are in need have access to adequate food. This program distributed over 63,000 packs last school year to 173 schools throughout Idaho.

Volunteer groups are limited to 20 people per shift.

“Martin Luther King Day is a day of service and a time to reflect on the struggles others are facing,” Karen Vauk, President and CEO of The Idaho Foodbank, says in a news release. “The support of volunteers is vital to our mission to provide food to Idahoans in need.”

The event will be happening at the foodbank’s location in Meridian and Lewiston as well. In the last fiscal year, The Idaho Foodbank hosted 17,474 volunteers. The hours they volunteered were the equivalent of 25 full-time employees. Those interested in volunteering throughout the year can click here or reach out to their local food pantry.

If you or someone you know needs food assistance, visit the website.

Pearl Health Clinic

In Ammon, Pearl Health Clinic is hosting a free health fair and blood drive.

“In recent weeks, blood centers across the country have reported less than a one-day supply of blood of certain critical blood types — a dangerously low level,” a news release from the American Red Cross says. “If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed.”

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Pearl Health Clinic has access to many community resources that people can benefit from. Event organizer Colin Waters says the health fair will give volunteers an opportunity to connect those in need with these resources.

The health fair will run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and the blood drive is happening from noon to 5 p.m. All the donation times are filled, as of Wednesday. Clinic spokeswoman Rebecca Tiberend-Hanks tells there are often cancelations throughout the day.

“If (you) show up to donate, they can probably squeeze you in,” she says.

Pearl Health Clinic is at 2705 East 17th Street.