As I write this, I sit in an apartment in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, just a few blocks from where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached to his congregation. I cannot express in words the gratitude I feel toward Dr. King and all the thousands of people who marched with him to demand equal rights for all Americans. Since its birth, America has been a nation that aspired to high ideals of equality, and since its birth, America has struggled and failed to live up to those ideals. People like Dr. King are the most important people in America, people who serve as a national conscience, who remind us of the ideals we aspire to, and insist that we try harder to live up to them. Dr. King made us better as a nation.
As the events of 2014 made painfully evident, although segregation and racism are no longer the law of the land, they often remain ingrained in the structure of our society. Too many people of color continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair opportunities. We have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do, before we can say we are living up to our American ideals.
But growing up, as I did, in the South during the 1970s, attending elementary school in the recently desegregated school system, I learned what a huge impact a few dedicated people can have on society and culture. The cultural difference between the older generation segregationists and the children who were educated in integrated schools was nothing short of stunning to me. While racial prejudice has not disappeared from our culture, that early experience gives me hope that it really can.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday was set aside to “serve as a time for Americans to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Martin Luther King, Jr.”
More than a mere day of reflection, the King holiday has evolved into a national day of service toward the realization of his great dream. The video below explains the King legacy of service, and how you can honor his memory and your community through service.
Dr. King was a great orator, and although his written words are powerful, I don’t believe you can truly understand the power of those words unless you have heard them as he spoke them. It was not merely the words, but the passion of his presentation, that motivated everyday people to extraordinary action during the civil rights era. I believe everyone should take the time on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to listen to the man speak.
If you have children, you owe it to them to teach them about Dr. King, about the struggle for racial equality, and about the nonviolent methods he used to create such great change. If we are going to make this world a better place for all of us, we need Dr. King’s leadership and ideals to live on in future generations.
Here are some places to hear Dr. King speak.
- “I Have A Dream” address to the 1963 March on Washington (YouTube) — A must-see.
- A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Amazon) — This audio book contains recordings of Dr. King’s key speeches, with introductions from other giants of the civil rights movement. It’s very inexpensive. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing the Kindle edition is not available with Whispersync, so I recommend the audio edition.
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Amazon) — This anthology edited by Clayborne Carson tells the story of Dr. King’s life in his own words. The audio edition includes recordings of Dr. King himself where available, and is narrated by Levar Burton where no recording was available. Again the Kindle edition is not available with Whispersync, so I recommend the audio edition.