If Martin Luther King, Jr. were among us today, I am sure he would be flattered and appreciative of all the celebration and commemoration of his life's work. But, chances are, he would much prefer that we live his legacy – that we pick up where he left off to help make the lives of the disenfranchised better, be they black, white, brown, yellow or red; rich or poor, city dweller or farmer, young or old. Improving the plight of humanity is what it is all about, but there remains a lot to do.
Many of the issues and concerns King lived and died for are still in need of our attention and energy. Look around you. There are many examples where there is slippage in the progress for better race relations, religious tolerance, and social justice, equal educational and economic opportunities – in not only the nation, and the world, but also no doubt right in your own community.
To our horror, the reminders get a little worse. Someone is beaten or killed because of how they look, because of their apparent or blatant sexual orientation, their religious beliefs. Then there are the less obvious crimes on humanity that are with us every day through some form or the other – disenfranchisement born of the disparity between economic classes, the healthy and not so healthy, the educated and the uneducated. Someone is denied a job, a home, a loan, a seat in a classroom.
Would Dr. King want us to address many of these issues – honoring his legacy by creating legacies of our own?
Most people remember the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which Dr. King delivered during the march on Washington, D.C. in 1963. But the fire that burned within King's soul, that led him to dedicate his life toward eradicating social evil and injustice, started long before – nearly 20 years earlier when he traveled to Dublin, Georgia as a senior in high school to deliver “The Negro and the Constitution” in an oratory contest. Perhaps, it was just a flicker then, but as you follow his life through college and the seminary, you see that flicker grow into a flame.
The more he saw and heard, the more he could not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear.
It was more than 60 years ago – when he was in high school – that Dr. King started his life-long journey to eradicate human injustice. Yet, six decades later, after some progress and much sacrifice by many people, we find ourselves at critical crossroads where we can choose to go backwards, stand still, or move forward.
The election of President Barack Obama has not eliminated the need to ask the very critical questions: What has changed significantly (for better or worse) over the last 10, 20, 30 or 50 years? Regardless of what major changes have occurred, or failed to occur, we need to ask “Why?”
Perhaps the most important question one could ask is “What role have I played in the change, stagnation, progress or retrogression?” Too often, we convince ourselves that we, as an individual cannot have an impact or make a difference. However, imagine if everyone – if King – thought that way. Where would society be? What would be the state of our neighborhood, our nation, the world? Individual effort can and do impact the state and quality of life whether on a small or large scale.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. He followed it. He spent his life, and lost it, trying to turn his dream into reality.
So after the celebration and the commemoration of his life, let us put into practice, like him, much of what he preached. Let each of us carve out a cause or causes and continue to work for a quality life for everyone.
That is the greatest tribute we can pay to Martin Luther King, Jr. and others like him.