Thoughts on MLK Day

The YWCA has a standing tradition of having programs that center around the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Those activities serves as a constant reminder for us to reflect on the equality that has been gained though the struggle of African Americans, the freedom that has been bought with numerous deaths, and an individual who caused a nation to change its course.

During the King season, we often hear of people quoting him, reflecting on his life and legacy, playing his speeches on radio stations, and airing them on television. However, this feeling is soon forgotten after the King holiday has passed. I often wonder what he would say if he were among us today.

Would he be pleased by the progress that has been made, or would he question whether the progress could have been achieved earlier? Would he be pleased by the number of individuals who vote, or would he point out that far too many African Americans still refuse to exercise that right, which required the passage of a constitutional amendment? Having a day on and not off should force one to go beneath the surface and ask the tough questions.

Dr. King was only 26 years old when he was chosen to lead the Montgomery bus boycott. Often, when young people try to lead and submit themselves for a cause greater than themselves, they are met with disappointment, false judgment, and envy.

When we read the letter from the Birmingham jail, we recall that King was responding to a group of white clergymen who wanted him to leave Alabama because he was causing too much disturbance. King challenged these clergymen by saying those who wait, those who refuse to address the situation, are no better than those who directly cause injustice and create unjust laws, for waiting can translate into never.

To ensure that the legacy continues, that lives are improved, and that level playing fields of opportunity exist for all our children, we must be the force that moves a tangible agenda forward instead of preventing such a noble concept to exist.

Perhaps in King’s greatest known speech, it seems that we remember the last part of “I Have a Dream.” We rightfully celebrate the passage, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Yet we overlook the first part of that resounding speech.

I challenge you to go back and recall what King said there. He reminded America that the promissory note the authors of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence wrote — the one that guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — was meant for all Americans and not just some Americans. But when the time came for the Negro, the poor, the least of us, to cash in that check at the bank of justice, the check came back marked “insufficient funds.”

Each generation should not have to fight the battles of the previous generation. But rather they should protect the advances that previous generations struggled and died for. Imagine how much further along our communities, churches, and we as a people would be if we did not overlook the need for public service. Our daily challenge is to answer the call to serve and help our fellow man regardless of the season.

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