On January 15th, Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 91 years old, had he not been shot and killed over 50 years ago. The father and husband had yet to celebrate his 40th birthday. A black man, shot and killed, riots destroying communities. A weapon bought under an alias days before the murder, an investigation lacking in clarity and closure. A story that could be in the news cycle today. His untimely death left a hole in the soul of this country. Given his work for equity and access during his short tenure on earth, he could not have imagined that 50 years on, we would still see the black man shot-riot-murky investigation scene played over and over at regular intervals. He would be deeply saddened to know that although Alabama and many other places find black children and white children playing together, school segregation is on the rise and in integrated schools, black students, particularly males, have a 25% suspension rate although they make up only 8% of the school population. He would be outraged that the guns that leave people maimed, dead and traumatized in churches and schools across America can still be bought in many states with few restrictions. What would he be doing to celebrate his birthday if he were alive and able today? Would he be sadly siting on the sidelines penning social media rants, or would he find some way to continue the work he started decades ago, work we say we celebrate on the 3rd Monday in January?
How are we celebrating the birthday of this man who lost his life fighting for equity and access for all? Are we shopping the sales? Sleeping in? Watching the parades and eating barbecue? While a day of rest is not a bad thing and saving money is always good, let me give you a few alternatives that would honor the man and his vision:
- Use your voice. Go to your local city council and school board meetings to speak out and vote on social justice issues.
- Register to vote. Or if you’re already registered, pick up cards from the library and get 5 friends to register. And have them do the same.
- Volunteer at a school, library or community tutoring center. You don’t have to be an algebra wiz to help a 2nd grader.
- Organize a driving pool in your church or community to drive voters to and from the polls on election days. Local ones are coming up.
- Support organizations like the ones on this list or scan the UN’s SDG Lazy Person’s Guide To Saving The World to see what you can do while shopping to make the world a better place and honor the King legacy.
This holiday is about so much more than a birthday. It’s a reminder that the work Martin Luther King Jr. began is unfinished. In our classrooms, on our campuses, in our communities, there is work that needs to be done every day to ensure that all students have access to an equitable and culturally responsive educational experience. What and how we teach them will prepare them to then flood our communities with a deep and abiding sense of social justice and fairness.
I remember my great-grandmother, Mommie, going proudly to eat lunch in the 70s at the Woolworth lunch counter, her cane tucked away, hatted head held even higher than usual. It would be years before I understood what this small privilege meant to a black woman born in Louisiana in the 1890s. I remember the 80s when Jessie Helms and other politicians tried to make sure that MLK’s birthday wouldn’t become a national holiday, and I remember the joyous celebrations when it finally did. Finally, I remember, only a couple of years ago, my son asking me if Obama had been the first black president. I remember being moved to tears, not because he had missed that fact, but because my son’s norm was having a black president. There has been progress. MLK forged a path in his short time as a civil rights leader that we have widened and fortified. But there is so much more to be done. I am moved to leave you with this poignant, action inspiring MLK Jr. quote;
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.
In honor of tomorrow’s holiday, how will you celebrate?