Martin Luther King Jr. day will be celebrated on Mon., Jan. 19, but the Civil Rights leader’s birthday was Jan. 15. We, as a nation, love our three-day weekends and rightly so, because we work hard. Over the last several years, a new development has occurred called the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. It’s the day, once a year, that everyone, in the spirit of Dr. King, is encouraged to serve the less fortunate.
It’s amazing how everything can be consolidated into a short form or a sound bite or a tweet. It’s how we now live, and service need not be a lifetime endeavor, but a day is enough to bask in the good feeling and know we’ve done something great.
The only thing some can remember about Dr. King is “I have a dream…”, but it misrepresents Dr. King’s legacy to reduce a life of 39 years down to a line, or part of a line from a single speech.
I have a dream.
I recall April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I was an 8-year-old girl living in Cleveland, Ohio, and couldn’t comprehend why mean, evil people existed. What did Dr. King do to someone that would cause his life to be snuffed out by a madman, and if it could happen to him, a nice man, who wanted to help everyone–not just black ones–then it could happen to anyone.
I didn’t then understand much about civil rights or human rights, but could only recall the stories my parents, who were born in the 1920s and old enough to be my grandparents, told me about their experiences in Georgia and Arkansas with racism, Jim Crow, separate but equal, and terrorism against blacks. Times were difficult, they longed for change — and sought it in the cities of Detroit and Cleveland.
Later, I read Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Why We Can’t Wait, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community and other writings by Dr. King, and I began to understand the scope was broader and rights were not limited to African-Americans but people throughout the globe, including the Vietnamese. Remember when Dr. King spoke out against the Vietnam war, even civil rights leaders abandoned him because they mistakenly believed he had no business speaking on this issue.
When I listen to his last speech, delivered on April 3, 1968 (known as I’ve Been to the Mountaintop), the words still penetrate the essence of my being.
“Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
As a nation, progress has been made, but we haven’t reached the mountaintop. When I think of Dr. King’s purpose, plan, vision, and sacrifice, I weep, because I know his spirit cannot be contained in a speech or speeches, nor can it be boxed into a single day of service. His life’s purpose and calling was that of a servant, and he invited us to serve along with him. One of his quotes asks how we’re making a difference.
“What are you doing for others?”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a wonderful idea; service–even for a day–helps someone, but I’ll always give thanks for Dr. King’s lifetime of service.
[Image via Inquisitr]