Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is known to many as one of the most influential leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. His passion and enthusiasm for social justice and equality changed the course of history and paved the way for freedom for so many from around the world. His legendary, “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963, has been such a global symbolic message for hope and continues to be acknowledged as one of the most powerful speeches for human rights.

This year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed on January 18, and is recognized as a national day of service. The holiday is celebrated each year to remember Dr. King’s legacy and contributions to the betterment of humanity. In the United States, he is often viewed as the quintessential leader for freedom and liberation. As a leader, he believed in the spirit of collaboration – working together for the greater good of the community. His ideals and philosophies continue to inspire global citizens to stand up for what is right and continue to challenge social injustice and discrimination in all forms. Dr. King also believed in the power of joining forces in the community and encouraged others to be mindful and empathetic towards others.

As educators, we not only have the strength to empower our students to make a difference, but we can demonstrate the value of merging classroom instruction and community service. This way, students can have a more meaningful learning experience that not only promotes critical thinking, but also helps them develop strong communication skills. By incorporating the mission of service learning within your curriculum, you are not only promoting Dr. King’s mission of civic engagement, but also teaching students the importance of using education as a tool for taking global action.

Incorporating service learning within your lesson plans will not only strengthen the experience for your students, but will challenge them to explore what it means to be a citizen of the world, the value of personal responsibility, and the impact of communicating with individuals from a different background other than your own. These critical skills will help students succeed academically and professionally, and help them have a better understanding of the world around them.

As an intercultural learning organization, AFS-USA not only understands the value of service learning, we recognize its potential to transform the lives of students. By combining classroom instruction and community service, students who participate in an AFS intercultural experience gain important 21st century skills, including critical thinking, communication and creativity, as well as develop empathy and a strong commitment to contributing to the global world. Students who travel abroad can get the opportunity to work with other students by giving back to a local school, community center, and religious establishment, just to name a few.

Photo: AFS Alum in Mozambique Helping Students Clean a School: Source AFS Flickr

As an educator, AFS can help you design a program that will not only be an extension of your classroom,  but will help your students reflect on the importance of diversity and help you achieve greater learning outcomes. The AFS Day of Service is just one of the ways our organization encourages students to participate in civic engagement. To highlight, in conjunction with Global Youth Service Day, AFS students from around the globe joined forces with volunteers and staff members to give back to the community. YES alumni in Mozambique were able to help some students clean their school (see photo below), and another student in Ghana volunteered in a clothing drive at a hospital.
Photo: AFS Alum in Mozambique Helping Students Clean a School: Source AFS Flickr 

We encourage you to challenge your students to choose a global issue that they are concerned about and give them the platform to use the skills they have developed in the classroom to make the world a better place. This experience will give your classroom an opportunity to understand the world on a broader scale and provide students with the chance to think about their role in the world. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder for consensus”.

I Have a Dream Speech
Civil Rights Movement
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Global Youth Service Day
Yes Abroad 

Lesson Plan
I Have a Dream