Today, January 18, 2016, we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. He is well known for his work as a civil rights leader, and his legacy lives on today. But why is it so important to celebrate not only what he did, but who he was as a person? Plenty of other important leaders, whom we do not honor as immensely as we do King, have made huge impacts on our lives. So what makes him important?
Firstly, Martin Luther King Jr. was a radical. So many things that we have today – Social Security, voting rights, minimum wage, child labor laws, etc. – are things that he fought for. It is very easy to forget that these ideas were also considered radical at one time, but are commonplace today. King fought for social justice and more democracy, and because of this, America has been forever changed. No, it was not solely his work that did this, but he played a major role in this change.
Secondly, MLK is most known for his work in fighting for racial equality, but he supported public education and labor unions as well. His efforts helped to inspire people like Doloras Huerta and Cesar Chavez, who founded the United Farm Worker’s Union. And today, people are still fighting for public education. So often teacher unions are put in a bad light, because of scandals in the news. But many are simply looking for fair compensation and are striving to be successful in providing education to America’s young people. This is especially an issue in impoverished areas, where, without public education, many young people will go on to be uneducated citizens. It is crucial for the future of our nation, as well as our world, to have educated citizens. As MLK said, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” If public education is someday no longer available, our nation and world will suffer greatly.
Thirdly, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for racial equality changed America. Today, in many ways, people are seen as equals, regardless of race and other differences. But unfortunately, discrimination of people of minorities is still common. This is demonstrated very clearly in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In many of his speeches he has openly discriminated against Mexicans, Muslims and others. The United States prides itself in being a free country and its citizens are entitled to the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights. But if we have this discriminative mentality guiding our opinions and actions, are we providing a free and safe place for people to reside? I don’t believe so. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech entitled “The Other America.” In this speech he explained that “the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it [America] has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.” This speech was given in 1967, but many issues he mentioned are still problems today. That said, without his influence, we may not have had as much success in the movement toward racial equality.
Though there are still so many cases where inequality remains an issue, the United States is a much safer environment for people of different races than it was in 1967. But it is also true that many people are more concerned with keeping peace when really, it is an illusion of peace. This is often because of fear; we fear what we do not understand. Because of that fear, many problems that minorities face in the world today go under the radar. So, it is easy to think that the world is, for the most part, at peace, as well as equal. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s goal was to create a world where all would be equal, which he spoke about in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. This mentality has been instilled in many people who fight for equality and peace today, thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s efforts.
The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. will live on for many years to come. His fight for racial equality, as well as public education and labor unions, changed America forever. We still have a long way to go, but if we continue to fight for those who do not have a voice, we, too, can make a change. It is because of people like MLK that we have the opportunity and the courage to fight for equality. That is why it is important to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Not only for his tireless efforts toward creating a world of equality, but for his message that he sends to all of us. If we want to make a change, it is up to us to work for that change. And we mustn’t give up until we have achieved our goal, no matter the size or scale.
So, I leave you with this: “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.