Who is Martin Luther King Jr. ? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not to be confused with the 15th century German priest Martin Luther, is an internationally recognized civil rights leader and preacher who promoted non-violent activism against racial discrimination and injustice. He was born on January 15th, 1929, raised in the south and the son of a preacher. After completing his professional degree and seminary, he worked as a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama. Throughout the 1950s-60s, Dr. King participated in various protests and worked closely with John F. Kennedy and other civil rights leaders to bring about equality for all people. His Christian values and the peaceful, but organized approach of activist Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi greatly influenced his opinions about social injustice. He participated in events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the march in Washington D.C. on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He was granted a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work in human rights and activism. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in an attempt to prevent the continuation of the Civil Rights Movement.
This Monday, January 16th, marks a national holiday that celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his efforts during the American Civil Rights Movement. Interesting Fact: Did you know that although MLK Day was declared a federal holiday in 1983, it was not observed by all 50 states until the year 2000? Even today, there is still resistance in celebrating the holiday.
Why we celebrate. Every third Monday in January we celebrate MLK day, which falls near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, January 15th. During his life, Dr. King spoke out against hate, discrimination, segregation and all forms of injustice. He devoted his life to helping victims of racial discrimination and poverty. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor the memory and principles of a man who fought for freedom from persecution. We celebrate to remind ourselves of the hate that once gripped this country and which still has not been fully eliminated. We also celebrate to continually educate ourselves about the past so that we can build a more positive and understanding path towards our future.
What we can do:
- Welcome diversity. We are already created equal…now all that remains is the task of putting our equality into practice. A modern author, Chimamanda Adichie, explains so well, that there is danger in knowing only one side of the story because it allows us to form prejudices about each other, to believe in stereotypes. Knowledge and experience, on the other hand, promote a deeper understanding and appreciation that allow us to recognize each other as equals. By being open to diversity, we give ourselves the opportunity to hear the other side of the story and in turn, are making possible the dream that Dr. King so passionately spoke of.
- Learn the history. There are lots of ways to learn and participate in the history. Go to a museum that features a relevant exhibit, check out some books about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement from your local library, watch a movie that discusses race relations, sit down with your kids, relatives and friends and have an open discussion about MLK, the Civil Rights Movement, segregation, etc. Efforts that may seem small, can add up to powerful knowledge that can bring about change in our nation. Those changes start at home, branching out into the community and expand to future generations. We are the producers of change.
- Volunteer. In honor of Dr. King’s efforts in helping victims of poverty and injustice the federal government has declared Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a National Day of Service. This year is the 26th anniversary of this national holiday. Serve.gov has provided a list of ways that you can be involved in activism on MLK Day. From serving meals to building houses, giving back is a big part of Dr. King’s message and the MLK Day of Service is an event that we can all be proud to participate in. Anytime that you can assist your fellow (wo)man, you are honoring the spirit of Dr. King’s words. To find out what you can do in your community, contact your local 211 for a list of opportunities! Learn more about Virtual Volunteering opportunities!
Want to learn more?
- Follow the highlighted links throughout this article.
- Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s biography on NobelPrize.org.
- Watch and/or read Martin Luther King Jr.’s ”I have a dream“ speech on Holidays.net.
- Check out the multitude of resources and original writings of MLK at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.
This article was previously published on January 13, 2011.
© 2012, Chantilly Patiño. All rights reserved.