15 Ways to Celebrate MLK Day in Chicago


January is by far my favorite month of the year. I have the same birthday month as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and I find that incredibly special. Growing up, I would commemorate the civil rights leader by attending annual marches in my hometown with my grandfather. We would wake up early, pile on our winter clothes, and make our way downtown, joining the crowd of city officials, faith-based leaders, and members of the community to gather at city hall. I have continued to celebrate Dr. Kings Legacy as an adult, by honoring the civil rights leader by taking advantage of every expression of liberty and equal rights that he and so many others fought so hard for me to experience today.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday observed as a National Day of Service, ” a day on, not a day off,” encouraging citizens everywhere to use the day to serve in the community as Martin Luther King Jr. did over 50 years ago. Check out 15 citywide events and activities to participate in this MLK Day in Chicago.

MLK Tribute: Ask Your Mama

Monday | January 15th | 7:30 p.m.

Symphony Center | 220 S Michigan Ave. | $10 – $62


The Chicago Sinfonietta is an orchestra made of diverse musicians representing the audiences that they draw to their unique and culturally inclusive performances. For the annual MLK Tribute concert, they will perform the Grammy award-winning, multi-media jazz/ symphonic composition, Ask Your Mama. This is one of my favorite events to attend on MLK Day. Join me for an evening of classical music, poetry, jazz, and more.  Purchase tickets on the event website. Performances take place in down Chicago and Naperville.

MLK Celebration

Tuesday | January 16th | 6:00 p.m.

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel | 5359 S Woodlawn Ave. | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_universityofchicago_2018Make your way to Hyde Park to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin King Jr. with the University of Chicago. Their annual MLK celebration will feature Dorthy Butler Gilliam, the first African-American female reporter for The Washington Post, who will be the keynote speaker at the event. There will be a community reception following the program that will take place on campus as well. The university will also host a community service day along with other awareness initiatives as well. For more details and registration information check out the event website here.

Too Hot to Handel

Tuesday | January 13th – 14th | Time Varies

Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University | 50 E Congress Pkwy. | $38 – $78

15_mlkday_celebrate_rooseveltuniversity_2018Celebrate the transformative power of music at Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre with Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah. The 13th annual event of jazz, gospel, and blues is inspired by Dr. King’s message of “beloved community.” Be sure to check out the website for event details and ticket availability.


Monday | January 15th | 6:00 p.m.

Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center | 4450 N Clark St. | $20

15_mlkday_celebrate_africanamericanartsalliance_2018The African-American Arts Alliance, an arts and advocacy resource for African-American Artists and arts organizations presents, And Still We Rise!, a celebration to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the city’s Uptown neighborhood. The event will feature performances for MPACCT, Joel Hall Dancers, Andre Teamer, The Black Ensemble Theater, and much more. A pre-show reception is available for those in attendance as well. Purchase tickets here for the celebratory event.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Hull-House: Resistance and Liberation

Sunday | January 14th | 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum | 800 S Halsted St. | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_hullhouse_2018Enjoy an MLK Day event made for the entire family at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum this weekend. The program includes reading, discussion, and book signing by Michele Jones Galvin, the great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman. There will also be art workshops influenced by the current exhibition Claiming Space,  as well as tours, and games that focus on collective community action and much more. Register the whole family for this inspiring event here.

Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast – A Conversation with Rev. Jesse Jackson: Moderated by Horace Hall

Tuesday | January 16th | 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Student Center(Lincoln Park), 120 A&B |2250 N Sheffield Ave. | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_depaulprayerbreakfast_2018The Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast brings together members of the DePaul faculty, staff, student and alumni community to celebrate the life and living legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an activist for social justice within the African-American community. This years event will include a conversation with Jesse Jackson moderated by Horace Hall. For event register head over to the event page here.

Chicago Justice Series: MLK Dinner & Discussion

Monday | January 15th | 5:30 0.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Silverstein Base Hillel | 2250 N Sheffield Ave. | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_chicagojusticeseries_2018The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Mishkan Chicago, Repair the World, and Silverstein Base Hillel seeks to share a meal and discussion on the history of segregation in our city. An effort, inspired by Dr. King’s move to the North Lawndale neighborhood in 1966 during the fight against housing segregation and interrelated injustices in Chicago. The event hosted by the event will feature Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Urban Research and Learning, Jack Macnamara who was the chief organizer of the Contract Buyers League of Chicago. Register today for this free event here.


MLK Day Challenge

Saturday – Monday | January 13th – 15th | 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Various Locations | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_mbmhmc_2018This MLK Day weekend, My Block, My Hood, My City (MBMCMH), is challenging Chicagoans to explore new neighborhoods throughout the three-day weekend. Chicago is one America’s most segregated cities ( don’t feel bad, my hometown was on there too), but is a city with rich history and culture that is just waiting to be explored. Break down these barriers this weekend by exploring and supporting a pre-selected list of ‘hidden gems’ identified by MBMCMH. Head over to MBMCMH Facebook page for a full list of neighborhoods and local businesses to seek.

Drum Majors for Justice

Saturday – Sunday | January 13th – 14th | 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

North Shore Baptist Church |5244 North Lakewood Ave. | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_drummajorsforjustice_2018If you are looking for various ways to be an advocate for justice, then the ‘Drum Major for Justice’ conference hosted by North Shore Baptists Church is the perfect event for you. Activities include workshops, a keynote address by civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Calvin Morris, and a panel discussion focusing on human rights and immigration. Register for the free two-day event here.


11th Annual Literacy Fair

Monday | January 15th | 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Northwestern Settlement | 1012 N Noble St. | Free15_mlkday_celebrate_literacyfair_2018AmeriCorps Project YES! and residents of West Town come together to host the 11th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literacy Fair. The “Knowledge is Power!” themed fair encourages strength through literacy. The event supports community interaction, learnings, and fun while exploring different aspects of literacy. Activities include literacy-based games, arts, crafts, and creative writing. To learn more about AmeriCorps Project YES! or to volunteer for the event, visit the event page here.


Martin Luther King Jr Day of Reflection: Film Program

Tuesday | January 16th | 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Silverstein Base Hillel | 2250 N Sheffield Ave. | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_hydeparkartcenter_2018Join the Hyde Park Art Center for a selection of short films highlighting Black Arts/ Black Power movements curated by filmmaker Floyd Webb. The afternoon of reflection of Dr. Kings legacy through the arts will also feature reading and performances in addition to the film screenings. More information including a detailed schedule can be found on the event page.

The Dream 50 Years Later

Monday | January 15th | 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

DuSable Museum |740 E 56th Pl. | $5-$1015_mlkday_celebrate_dusablemuesum_2018MLK Day at the DuSable Museum is a well-known annual event. Celebrate the legacy of Dr. King with all day events including films, discussions, storytelling, arts and crafts, and more. The event is perfect for the whole family. Become a member and save during the annual event. For more information on MLK Day at the DuSable, be sure to check out their website here.


Celebrating the Life and Legacy

Sunday – Saturday | January 15th – 31st | Time Varies

Northwestern University Evanston and Chicago Campuses| Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_northwesternuniversity_2018Northwestern University has a myriad of events that are open to the public. Event highlights include the screening of 70 Acres In Chicago, a documentary focusing on the well-known Cabrini Green neighborhood. A keynote address by CNN commentator and New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles Blow, as well as stage events, discussions, lectures, service projects and more to inspire the life and legacy of Dr. Marking Luther King. Head over to the university’s website for a full list of events taking place on the both Chicago and Evanston campuses.

Stand Up to Violence

Monday| January 15th | 12:30 p.m.

Hope Cafe |2431 W Roosevelt Rd. | Free15_mlkday_celebrate_westsidestories_2018West Side Stories is a series of a public dialogue held on the West Side of Chicago. This month’s event, Stand Up to Violence will honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King through storytelling and engaging dialogue featuring poet and Moth Grand Slam champion James Gordon. Register here for the free and family-friendly event.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service

Monday | January 15th | 8:30 a.m.

Gale Community Academy | 1631 W Jonquil Terr. | Free

15_mlkday_celebrate_cityyearchicago_2018Rise, shine, and volunteer with City Year Chicago on MLK Day. City Year Chicago will join hundreds of volunteers city and state-wide to transform and beautify Gale Community Academy, a Chicago Public School located in the Roger Park Neighborhood.  Snacks and an optional lunch will be provided for this half-day event. Volunteer for this day of service by following the link here.


If you are looking for more ways to serve and advocate for your community beyond MLK Day, be sure to check out volunteer websites like Chicago Cares, Volunteer Match, and One Good Deed Chicago, for year-long opportunities to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy in 2018.

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