Make This MLK Day Of Service Count Like No Other

Philanthropist Horatio Williams explains how starting with one small gesture or idea can lead to a hugely significant impact in your community.

As the founder of The Horatio Williams Foundation in Detroit, Michigan, I’ve been blessed to see the miracles that can happen when people come together and decide a societal norm needs to be changed. Established in 2005, the foundation has been committed to supporting Detroit and the surrounding areas by providing a second chance to those down on their luck, programs for underprivileged children, and offering steppingstones to families in need. We’ve hosted nearly 100 food distribution events throughout the years, multiple after-school programs, and supported more than 60,000 Detroiters during hard times. 

Today, when people look at nonprofit organizations' great works, they see the significant community initiatives, hundreds of volunteers, team members, award acknowledgments, and all of the families who benefit.

What we sometimes forget is that most nonprofits start from a single idea. One person saw a need and decided to make a change. As we observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I urge you to use this as your sign that you, as an individual, have the power to become the change-maker you want to see. 

Across our country, there has been a movement led by grassroot campaigns started by someone who recognized a lack in their region. You can do the same. Rather than wait for the holiday season or celebrity-backed initiatives, learn how to support your community through your own efforts. 

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When I started my foundation, all I had was a vision for how I wanted to impact Detroit and the legacy I wanted to leave in the community. I went back to my old neighborhood, and immersed myself with other Detroiters, and had transparent conversations to learn what was missing in the city. The answer was clear: families needed holistic support to survive and thrive. Parents were advocating for affordable housing, extracurricular activities for their children, and young adults needed role models and someone to help guide their path. 

To bring my vision to life, I enlisted the aid of my family and friends. But it wasn’t easy. To succeed, I had to align myself with people who saw my vision clearly and wanted to give back. We organized ourselves like a sports team; everyone knew their positions and what was expected of them. Once we had our leaders in place, we were ready to go out into the community and share our mission. 

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From there, I decided to invest in my city two-fold and I bought a building in downtown Detroit. During that time, that area was Gotham City. All of the big businesses had disappeared, and people called me crazy for purchasing it, but I knew I had to commit. If I was going to support my community, I had to aid the people and the economy. I wanted to provide a retreat for those who needed it. 

Nearly 15 years later, I see the effects the foundation has had on my city. I’m greeted by adults that grew up in the program who are proud to show how far they’ve come. Thanks to donations from top sponsors like Gilead and MGM Grand Detroit, we are able to expand our program offerings and continue our great work. The change that happens in my community came from one man with one idea. Even if you have to start small, it’s important to just start. 

Getty Stock Images
Getty Stock Images

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I urge you to use this day to commemorate the work of Dr. King and begin your own mission to support your community: 

Start With Your Why: Figure out what cause means most to you. Is it combatting poverty in your community, increasing access to healthcare, affordable housing, or education? 

Select A Nonprofit Organization: Research a local nonprofit that aligns with what’s important to you. 

Show Up And Support: Volunteer, donate your expertise, host an event in their honor, or crowdsource on their behalf to raise additional resources. Contact your local officials to advocate for policies and funding that benefit the organization. 

My hope is to inspire the next generation to be the change they want to see. As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”


The Horatio Williams Foundation is one of Michigan's leading nonprofits providing support to Detroit and surrounding areas. Horatio established the nonprofit in 2005 to give a second chance and steppingstone to families in need. The foundation's mission is to teach character-building life lessons and be a lifelong vehicle for underprivileged children to succeed and become confident leaders. For more information about the foundation, visit

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