Since 2000, the third Monday of January has been observed as Martin Luther King Jr. day in the U.S. Like most federal holidays, many of us only see this day as a well needed break from school and work; but in reality it’s so much more. While this day honors the life and legacy of a prolific man, it also demands that we step back and reflect on how his vision of equality and union in the U.S. has been fulfilled and where it has yet to come to pass. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia during the Jim Crow Era. Most can agree that the state of our country’s race relations is much better today than during that time. Black Americans can be found in well-respected positions as lawyers, doctors, and even members of Congress. We have collectively taken a large step forward toward a more racially equal society that advocates for equal opportunity among all races, not just the majority. So why do we still celebrate the man behind so much of the Civil Rights Movement in 2016? Personally, I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. is not done speaking to us, and that he has more to say than “I have a dream.”
To actively change what is around us, we must first leave our comfort zones behind. Nothing worth having is accomplished while living in the joys of comfort. If Dr. King chose to pursue a comfortable life as a minister, professor, public speaker or businessman, his life would have gone much differently. Instead, Dr. King ended up spending more time in a jail cell than any of us would like to think about. He was arrested upwards of 25 times during his short life (and I doubt those jail cells were anything but uncomfortable). Still, we find him back there again and again.
To achieve the unthinkable we must leave the places we know.
The reason is simple: in order for us to bring about real change
in the world, whether large scale or small scale, we must do things we’ve never
done and go places we’ve never gone before. In Letter from a Birmingham Jail King speaks of how he was called to
Birmingham and other places because of the injustice that he heard about there.
He felt that he must bring his message of equality “far beyond the boundaries
of his hometown.” With this message he also rallied thousands of other
activists to the civil rights cause and ignited the crusade for equality that
we read about in our history books today. But it all started with leaving his
home, his wife, his children, and all his comforts, behind.
Dr. King faced backlash from more places and peoples that he
could have ever imagined. His nonviolent approach was challenged by government
officials, the President, and others like Malcolm X who pushed for coalitions
like the Black Nationalism movement, which he believed should be achieved “by
any means necessary.” When asked about King’s philosophy of non-violence Malcom
X said, “He got the peace prize, we got the problem.”
Conversely, the government actively enacted laws that Dr. King had
tried to tear down throughout his life. When marching from Selma to Montgomery, King and his protestors were beaten and
nearly killed in an attempt to discourage their march. Through these sources of
opposition, Dr. King saw just how important it was to be self-assured in your vision. While he was never completely certain
that he would be alive to see his vision come to fruition, he was assured that
others who came after him would experience the benefits; and that gave him
Others won’t always see the bigger picture, but you must still
move forward. Those around you may not think your fight is worth it, but you
must make the decision to keep fighting. Dr. King was willing to do anything to
see his dream come true, and even though his time was cut short, I have no
doubt that he would’ve pressed on in his work until he saw equality in the U.S.
Death was certainly not the end goal, “But
if physical death is the price that some must pay, to free their children from
a permanent psychological death, then nothing shall be more redemptive.”
On January 14th CBU was graced with the presence of Rev. Virzola Law as the guest speaker for a
commemoration of Dr. King’s life and legacy. During her speech, she repeatedly
sought to remind the audience: “our humanity unites us.” Though simple, this
mantra seems to be forgotten in our society, and we’ve become blind to the needs of our fellow humans. Andrew Ramano of Newsweek speaks of how “For
more than two centuries, Americans have gotten away with not knowing much about
the world around them. But times have changed.” We don’t know or seem to care about the
troubles that plague the world outside our borders. Dr. King did not just fight
for the voting and political rights of blacks, but also the poor and
marginalized. In fact, he was assassinated while taking up the struggle for the
rights of sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee, who were not being given
safe working conditions at the time. Dr. King understood that “No one is free
until we are all free” and that equality means nothing if it is not for all
Renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small
group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”. The Civil Rights movement started out as a
grassroots movement from the local communities of the South. However, with leadership
from Dr. King and others, its impact reverberated around the country. Dr. King
took the movement from Alabama
and Georgia all the way up to
Washington D.C. He successfully led 200,000 people to the Washington Monument to
protest against the civil and economic inequalities plaguing Black Americans.
He managed to sway attitudes with his non-violent tactics and because of his leadership
role in the Civil Rights movement, King received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Rev. Law with Students at the Jan. 14 Event
Rev. Law’s credo, “You are enough to take the community to the
next level,” is something that we find evident throughout the discourse of Dr.
King time and again. In We Shall Overcome he boldly states: “This
will be a great America! We will be the participants in making it so. So as I
leave you this evening I say, walk together children! Don't you get weary!”
He knew that a change had to be made and chose to personify that
change. You have the power
within you to bring about real worldwide change. It starts with the smallest
things. All it takes is being active instead of passive. Sometimes it can be as
simple as taking the time
out of your day to speak to someone you don’t know and truly listen to what
they have to say. If you notice bigotry, share truth. If you find hatred,
spread love. Lastly, if you see injustice, point it out. After all, in the
words of the late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to
end the day we become silent about things that matter”.
The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.