Minister. Activist. Leader.
Husband. Father. Nobel Peace Prize winner.
There are many labels to describe the roles Martin Luther King Jr. led in his 39-year life, but there could never be enough language to adequately describe his impact.
While Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated annually on January 18, there are relevant and impactful lessons from his life and legacy that each of us can carry on each day.
King, an American Baptist minister and activist, became the most visible spokesperson in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for advancing civil rights, by participating in marches for Black Americans’ right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights many others already had.
In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty, capitalism and the Vietnam War.
A teaching from King’s life, summarized in his own words, is this: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
There was no injustice too small for King to overlook or too large for him to tackle.
King’s own experiences with racial prejudice from the time he was very young inspired him to dedicate his life to achieving equality and justice for Americans of all colors. His beginnings were humble, but his dreams were not defined by where he was born or what he could see. They were shaped by his experiences and want for a better life for the generations to come.
King helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered perhaps his most famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” King famously orated on that day. “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
We can also learn from King’s life, by recalling another famous quotation - “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
King never stopped moving, and he never stopped dreaming.
In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. Although his life ended that day, he will forever be remembered for his commitment to the cause of equality for everyone.
May we always admire King’s sacrifices, revere his legacy, dare to dream as big as he did and never stop fighting for racial equality.
St. John the Baptist Parish President