Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, celebrated on the third Monday in January, is the federal holiday that is set aside to honor Dr. King’s birthday, life and legacy. The principles of justice and equality that he fought and died for should be a part of our daily life and not just once a year. Over the years, we have looked back on his life, celebrated his legacy in ways such as a day of service to honor him. And when the day ends, many persons forget about community service or Dr. King’s legacy and what he stood for until the next January. For some persons, Dr. King’s holiday is a day off from work. For others, Dr. King has been reduced to one day of service, one great “I Have a Dream” speech and one great monument on the mall. Many persons do not know what Dr. King really fought for or stood for.
First, for many persons who did not live through the Civil Rights era, study it in school or fail to understand the impact of Dr. King on our country today, we need to educate those individuals about Dr. King. The film Selma about the Civil Rights Movement has been highlighting new interest for many young persons who do not fully know or understand the impact that Dr. King had on this country and continues to impact today far beyond his death. That’s why I’m excited that individual efforts spearheaded by black business leaders, called Selma for Students in many cities including Baltimore, Washington, DC, New York and 21 others nationwide raised over 2.1 million for over 285,000 free tickets to ensure that students can see Selma and learn about Dr. King’s life. Educating about the life of Dr. King is important to raise the consciousness level of those who are unaware of his accomplishments and to see beyond Dr. King’s holiday as a onetime yearly event. And many adults could also benefit from such awareness.
Dr. King’s work is not done. In many ways, the laws of our country still systemically discriminate against persons of color. The numerous criminal justice issues surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Oscar Grant in San Francisco and many others is but one area that needs to be addressed and changed. While blacks are no longer beaten to death or killed by whites while trying to register to vote, many killings of blacks by police go without any prosecution. And registering to vote, which Dr. King fought for the rights of African Americans, has become onerous and oppressive in many states with Voter Photo ID laws enacted since 2006. The death penalty is legal in most states in this country. And yet, the vast majority of persons on death row are African American men despite the fact that they make up only roughly 6% of the population. And death penalty laws still exist despite arguments that the death penalty does not work, is racially disproportionate, is not a deterrent to crime and many persons on death row have later been exonerated . Dr. King died while fighting for a living wage for sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968. That fight continues today. Today, we are still fighting for a living wage for many persons of all colors to be able to live and financially support themselves without strong opposition from many lawmakers and corporations.
For everyone who cares about justice and equality which Dr. King fought and died for, everyday should be a day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. We do not need to do it in the way that Dr. King did. In our own way, we can honor his legacy year round and fight for justice and equality.
Dr. King was a drum major for justice. And in ways, big and small, we can fight for justice too. In Dr. King’s words, “the time is always right to do what is right.”