How you celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday preserves his legacy – a legacy of love. Many organizations, schools, and cities hold programs and marches all over the country, but what you do in private is just as important.
Listen to his Speeches
I grew up listening to Dr. King’s collection of speeches that were recorded on albums. My cousin Jimmie memorized Dr. King’s speeches and used to say them in front of our family members and peers at the middle school we attended together. It is because of this that that Dr. King’s words are in my spirit. I don’t just honor him; I honor what he stood for. Honoring Dr. King should not be a rote act. Neither should it be just another day off from school or work. Even today—some decades later—on his birthday, I listen to or read at least one of Dr. King’s speeches. My favorite is I Have a Dream. The speech not only clearly describes the dream but also lays the framework for achieving the dream: “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence” (American Rhetoric, 2001-Present). If we don’t know what Dr. King said, we won’t know what he stood for. So, learn about Dr. King from Dr. King.
Learn from his Legacy
Dr. King left an inspiring legacy built on love. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he eloquently voiced this legacy, “All humanity is involved in a simple process, and all men are brothers. To the degree that I harm my brother, no matter what he is doing to me, to that extent I am harming myself” (Blue Mountain Arts Collection, 2007, p. 32). When we recognize that we are all brothers and sisters, we should react differently toward each other. When we are dissatisfied with how we are treated, we should not react out of hatred toward the offender. In Dr. King’s sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he stated, “Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love illumines it” (Blue Mountain Arts Collection, 2007, p. 79). When we react out of love, we focus on building bridges as opposed to burning bridges.
Treasure the Opportunities
I have a Norman Rockwell framed print hanging on the wall next to my desk. A little girl is walking to school in a crisply starched dress. A matching ribbon is gathered around her pony tail and tied into a bow at the nape of her little neck. A couple of books and a ruler are gracefully tucked in her left hand. It almost seems like a normal school day until the unspeakable graffiti next to the splattered tomato on the wall and the U.S. marshals who serve as her body guards accost you. This print reminds me of one of the high prices that was paid so that my children and those to come might have the opportunities my parents and I did not have. Even though America is not perfect, we should recognize that she has made improvements. Moreover, we should treasure the lives lost and the challenges people endured to make those improvements tangible. Then make the most of the opportunities that are now available.
(PBS, November 10, 2013)
For a glimpse into the the lives of Dr. King and the people who worked with him, I recommend you see Selma.
MovieClips Trailers, November 7, 2014
What memories do you have of Dr. King’s legacy? This is the story in you. Share it.
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American Rhetoric. (2001-Present). American rhetoric: Top 100 speeches. Retrieved from http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm
MovieClips Trailers. (November 4, 2014). Selma official trailer #1. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6t7vVTxaic
Public Broadcasting Service. (November 10, 2013). The African Americans: Many rivers to cross. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzuS8CI-sSI
PQ Blackwell Limited. (2007). The word and inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Dream. Boulder, CO: Blue Mountain Arts, Inc.