As we embark on yet another holiday to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is important for us to reflect on how we as individuals can effect change that can make our society even better.
Dr. King, affectionately known as the drum major for justice, was a national focal point for the Civil Rights movement, but more importantly he was able to get the masses to respond to his calls to action.
Answering those calls to action provided the imagery that we embrace today as milestones of the Civil Rights movement: the March on Washington, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and more. But these were not the only actions that were taken during the Civil Rights Movement. There were many other actions taken by individuals all across this country that had an impact on local communities. Yes, they might have been on a much smaller level than the actions taken by Dr. King and his colleagues, but they were impactful on creating systemic change just the same.
Too often, we get caught up in the pageantry of celebration when it comes to honoring great leaders and forget about those who helped pave the way for them to ascend into the spotlight, those who set the table for them and others to feast, and those who made great sacrifices that history rarely recognizes.
King Day is not only a day to remember Dr. King, but it is also a day to remember those who stood by Dr. King’s side and had his back on many occasions. We know the names of those who were with him on numerous occasions – Rev. Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Jesse Jackson, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, and others.
But who were the people who put their lives on the line and fought for justice the days before and after Dr. King and his crew arrived – the locals who carried out the fight every day? These brave souls are the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and the keepers of the dream. Those that believed in freedom, justice, and equality and worked in their own way to make these basic principles a reality in cities all across the country.
Because of their sacrifices, it’s not enough to attend a rally, a parade, or a commemorative event on King Day and do very little throughout the rest of the year to support the principles that Dr. King stood for. It’s not enough to clap hands, high-five one another and puff out your chest because you participated in some feel-good gesture, while there are still inequalities that exist in our society.
King Day should be a day of resolve. Just as many of us make resolutions as we enter a new year, many of us should resolve to do something impactful, something intentional, and something different that will help to improve the plight of all people in America. All of us, in our own way, can make a difference in society. We just have to make up our minds to do it.
There are far too many people to name who were involved in the Civil Rights movement in one way or another. Some helped create systemic change and opportunities where they worked, some broke color barriers in education, sports, and various professions, some made phone calls and sent letters to help alert their community about the next call to action, and others sold dinners and collected money so that protesters and leaders like Dr. King could have money for gas, hotels, food and yes, bail if they needed it. They all played a role, and all paid a dangerous price to effect change.
When it comes to progress, there is still a role that all of us can play in moving the needle of freedom, justice, and equality in the right direction. Although we’ve made many advancements, we still have a long way to go.
So, as you take a moment on King Day to reflect on the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I urge you to think about the dash that lies between his birth year and year of death on his tombstone (1929 – 1968) and what it truly represents. Dr. King’s life work did not take place or culminate in one day. His work spanned many years, many hot days, long nights, and sacrifices for brighter days that he, unfortunately, would never see.
If Dr. King’s unrelenting years of service to humanity represented by that dash means anything to you, if that dash has in any way impacted your life, then I implore you to commit to a few hours, days, weeks, or months to honor his legacy through action and service. It’s time to use your skills and talent to help make a difference in your community and make the world a better place for all of us to enjoy.
Chris B. Bennett is the CEO and publisher of The Seattle Medium.