The words of Martin Luther King Jr. are quoted in innumerable motivational, educational and ceremonial venues. The late civil rights leader gave speeches that reverberate through today’s media, especially his “I Have a Dream” speech. But, why does it feel like that’s all he’s done?
The U.S. celebrated King Jan. 17, and his legacy is relevant for recent years, or should be. Racial tensions reached new heights during the protests in the summer of 2020, and since then, they haven’t died down. Calls for racial equity in the workplace, justice system and social atmospheres are just as prevalent as they were when King was leading marches.
“To understand the constant struggle that Dr. King went through in order to create equity and try to bring Black people to the forefront, I think that’s important for us to understand and acknowledge,” Assistant Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Justin Mallett said. “There’s more to Dr. King than just the “I Have a Dream” speech, and I think we have to be able to understand what those things are and celebrate him in his true form.”
King’s legacy created a lot of opportunities for people of color and opened the eyes of some influential white people. Of course, he’s known for his speeches, but people forget that he did more than speak to the people who believed in his cause. King met with presidents, lawmakers and many people who would do anything to keep him quiet. He set the standard for inclusion and for making the U.S. a safe space for all.
The civil rights movement is described to last from 1954 to 1968, but it didn’t end that year. In fact, it shouldn’t ever be considered over. Not until everyone is equal, not just verbally.
The Northwest Missourian’s Editorial Board believes that King’s legacy should be celebrated more than it is. Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr. gets a similar treatment to Black History Month. When it’s time to celebrate, all eyes are on said celebration. For the rest of the year, though, his name rarely makes an appearance.
Northwest’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion does a good job of hosting events to celebrate and practice what King preached. A week’s worth of events commemorating the leader while educating and encouraging the campus is vital in continuing the work he dedicated his life to.
People need to incorporate the message of the civil rights movement daily. It’s one thing to acknowledge the accomplishments of an influential figure, but what is the point of those accomplishments if they didn’t create change for the future? The purpose of MLK’s speeches was to inspire change in future generations. Yes, a lot has changed in the U.S. since his death, but the job is far from done.
The rise in racial injustice awareness following the summer of 2020 was a modernized version of what MLK was doing. Social media was confronting racially charged issues in the U.S. and, at one point, highlighted the lack of education on such topics. Currently there’s a debate on whether critical race theory needs to be taught in schools. Those who oppose critical race theory are the same people who are opposed to teaching the full history of the civil rights movement. They are the same people opposed to teaching about how much work we still have in the U.S.
This country has done a good job of reserving days to acknowledge influential leaders, but that’s not quite enough. If we truly want to commemorate trailblazers, we need to utilize the tools they gave us to advance society. MLK helped open the door to equality and inclusion; we just need to step through it.