We shall overcome! Celebrating MLK and non-profits 50 years later.

Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement marched on Washington D.C. and history was made. Today, all of us should take a moment to reflect and pay tribute to a great man and a powerful movement. However, I encourage you to also take another moment to think about the role that non-profit organizations played in Dr. King’s dream and the impact his message has on our sector.

First, let’s start in the beginning with this YouTube video of MLK and his famous speech of 50 years ago:


When listening to Dr. King’s speech, I am most struck by how many non-profit organizations today are engaged in the struggle he articulated. His impact is still felt 50 years later, and his legacy is his gift of a “vision statement” for so many non-profit organizations.

The following is a list of non-profit organizations from 50 years ago. Do you know what they all have in common?

  • Alpha Phi Alpha
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Women’s Political Council
  • Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • The Penn Community Services Center
  • Detroit Council for Human Rights
  • American Committee on Africa
  • SNCC Freedom Singers
  • The Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change

Yes, these are all non-profit organizations with connections to MLK. If you’re interested, you should click-through to an amazing Blue Avocado article titled “Did You Know? … Ten Nonprofits that Shaped the Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

When you go to GuideStar and type in the words “civil rights nonprofits” a list of 6,1,63 different non-profits come up under the category of Civil Rights and Liberties. While not all of these charities are tied to MLK, they are all connected to the legacy he helped sow.

Fifty years later, we use Martin Luther King Jr. Day to encourage our fellow citizens to use it as a “Day of Community Service“.

As I reflect on MLK’s accomplishments and use a non-profit lens to do so, here is what I see:

  • The man and his point of view was influenced by non-profits.
  • His movement was fueled by non-profits.
  • His “I have a dream” speech is a vision statement for countless civil rights organizations to this very day.
  • His messages and his tactics are his enduring legacy, and these things are still used by all sorts of non-profit organizations.
  • The national holiday celebrating his birthday has transformed into a day of service benefiting countless non-profit organizations.

It is an amazing legacy with non-profit fingerprints and connectivity associated with it. I hope you have a few moments to reflect on all of this today.

Do you have a dream? What is your non-profit organization’s dream? How is your organization’s mission and vision rooted in Dr. King’s iconic “Dream speech“? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts or just leave a tribute to MLK.

Here’s to your health . . . “Let freedom ring!”

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

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