On January 21, the nation pauses to remember one of its most important civil rights leaders with a national holiday. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most influential and respected civil rights leaders who inspired the world and helped bring about laws that ensure fairness and equality for all Americans.
Ironically, a firm supporter of non-violence, Dr. King's own life ended violently when he was shot on April 4, 1968 while he was in Memphis to support sanitation workers who were on strike.
Although Dr. King spent just 39 years on this earth, he set in motion changes whose impacts are being felt to this day. His relentless energy, his vision of equality, and his dream of a better America, were the driving forces behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Through non-violence means, King fought for the freedom, equality, and justice of not just blacks, but all races. He was also an anti-war leader. Many of Dr. King's words - especially those during the Vietnam era - have particular resonance today.
King once said: "Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools."
On another occasion, King said: "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
Born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, King attended Morehouse College and later received a PhD in Systemic Theology from Boston University. At the age of 24 he became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to comply with the Jim Crow laws that required her to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by King, soon followed. The boycott lasted for 382 days, during which time King's house was bombed in protest. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a US Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation on public transportation.
King recognized that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. It was an unpopular cause but his belief in what he was doing helped him to literally change America.
King fought to give life and new meaning to the proclamation of America that "all men are created equal." He struggled against what often seemed to be an uphill battle in order to erase those lines of division that did nothing but separate us according to stereotypes and injustices fueled by hatred.
The King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America's greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.
The Martin Luther King Day offers us an opportunity to commemorate the timeless values King taught us through his example -- the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service.
The Martin Luther King Day is an appropriate occasion to ponder on King's powerful remarks about injustice: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere - we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." It is so easy to go on living our lives as if this issue does not deal with us. But, in the words of Dr. King, "Our days begin to end the day that we become silent about the things that matter." If we do not speak against the injustices toward others in our society, we are no better than those that choose to be the puppet of ignorance and prejudice through their hateful words and actions.
The Martin Luther King Day is also an occasion to reflect pledge that we all have the courage of conviction to speak up when we need to, the strength to stand up for those who need our support, and the willingness to use our voices to affect change.
Though his fight ended at the time of his death in 1968, the realm of social injustice and discrimination in our society and the battle for equality is still very real today. Dr. King's work remains unfinished and that eliminating poverty, racial discrimination and inequality continues to be a challenge for all Americans.
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