Advocacy and Activism

9, 10, 11, 12

Participants explore Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s thoughts about serving and taking action. They give examples of service and social action by one person that can change the world.

PrintOne 45 Minute Session

The learner will:

  • define service and social activism.
  • discuss the commitment to service in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Resources about Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Civil Rights Movement:

  • I Have a Dream: The Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • The King Center: listen to the short audio recording of Dr. King's speech about service  "The Drum Major Instinct" 
  • Noble Peace Prize website, Biography of Dr. King
  • The History Channel
Teacher Preparation 

Select some resources for young people to read.

  • service: to provide a community or organization with something that it needs
  • donate: to give or present something, especially to a charitable organization or other good cause
  • social activism: working with others to bring about change in civil society

Young people reflect in writing about some ways they could "be great" through service or social action.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Spark conversation by saying, "Martin Luther King, Jr. was a philanthropist." Talk about the meaning of the words philanthropy and philanthropist, which many believe is focused on rich people giving money to help programs and people. Philanthropy's power is in the hands of all people as they make change through social action. A philanthropist gives time, talent, or treasure for the common good. Dr. King made a difference for the common good by changing attitudes and laws. He gave speeches, led marches, and advocated for civil rights.

    If possible, play news video clips from the March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech. Talk about the words and actions that impact social good.

  2. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was committed to service and social activism. In a time when Black Americans seemed powerless to make important changes, he led Americans to take nonviolent action to advocate for the rights of all Americans.

    Service is a helpful action done to benefit the common good, and we all have that power. Social activism is an intentional act to bring about social, political, environmental, or economic change.

  3. Ask young people to recall times they or someone else took action through service or social activism, and reflect on the impact that these actions had on themselves or others.

  4. In small groups, young people can read about the life and work of Dr. King as a philanthropist. These questions may guide their research. Give them 20-30 minutes to read and discuss, and get ready to share some findings and reflections with the whole group.

    • How did Martin Luther King, Jr.'s teachings influence others?
    • In what ways was Dr. King a social activist? (Social activism is an intentional act to bring about social, political, environmental or economic change.) List examples.
    • What internal or external conflicts did Dr. King face that may have influenced his thinking about service?
    • What does the following comment of Dr. King's mean to you? "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve."
    • How can we make a differerence with service and social activism and continue the work of equity and anti-racism?
  5. Have a whole group discussion about the reflections of the small groups. The discussion may lead to young people choosing to take action. 

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.7 Identify and give examples of the important roles women and minorities have played in the civil society sector in history.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced national or world history.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark HS.10 Identify reasons why historic figures acted for the common good.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.