Why Martin Luther King Jr. Day still matters
As the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday draws near, it brings with it a time for reflection at Doane University.
Given the great tumult in our world today, we are fortunate—some might say blessed—to have the words and deeds of Dr. King to guide us, inspire us and to give us hope in these uncertain times at home and abroad. Martin Luther King Jr. called upon all of us—African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, Whites and all shades in between—to embrace our common humanity and empower the “better angels of our nature.” What his life meant, what his words taught us, means more today than at any time in our recent history. Dr. King's “I Have a Dream” speech is significant not just for the country and world, but for our families and ourselves as individuals. It speaks to everyone and we should listen to it often and not just on the third Monday of the first month of the year.
Because of the work of Dr. King, we now have the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 that opened the doors of immigration to Asians, Latinos, and Africans at a time in our history when these doors were closed. Because of his actions, and others in support, countless people gained freedom and equality in this great country.
Yet there is still much to be accomplished.
Although we now legally guarantee equal liberties to all people, issues of race, religion, class, wealth, gender and sexual-orientation still exist in this country and around the world. Dr. King taught us that without people with the courage, fortitude and passion to stand up and enforce equality, Thomas Jefferson’s soaring rhetoric—that "we hold these truths to be self-evident that all people are created equal"—becomes nothing more than words on paper. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that the confluence of our words with our action matters. After all that is the very definition of the word "integrity."
But there is good news. There is hope.
Dr. King had a dream "that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed." Now it is up to all of us to make this dream a reality. And we should start by loving, not hating, our neighbors and particularly those less fortunate. Dr. King called upon us to identify and break down those barriers of all kinds in our society that limit people from reaching their full potential. And he insisted that we should do so peacefully and with non-violence. He challenged us to address the failings in our public schools, colleges and universities. He encouraged us to welcome and support immigrants because with the exception of the first people, our American Indians, we are all just a few generations away from the being the sons and daughters of immigrants in these United States of America. Dr. King called upon us to tackle the issues of poverty and access to health care. He understood and acknowledged that these are not easy problems to solve, and to this very day, we are still far from having the right answers and solutions.
But we must work together on these and other challenges we are facing. We must never give up trying. That is his message.
So as you celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, take a moment and think about how he has influenced you in your life. And then more importantly, ask yourself what you can do going forward to improve the lives of others.