Sunday, January 14, 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Tomorrow, January 15th, is the birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is also his national holiday. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating the holiday and it was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. This is the fourth time that the actual birth date and Martin Luther King Day coincide.

Many in our nation are still not convinced that King should have a holiday in his honor. Some communities still don’t treat it as a holiday, and some make a point of letting everyone know that they are not going to recognize this federal holiday. None of that negativity or opposition will deter me from honoring Dr. King and his many works on his day.

In our community, we will have numerous events that will honor Dr. King. There will be banquets, church services, marches, memorial blood drives, speeches, exhibits, and there will also be service projects and other educational and community programs honoring his legacy.

All of these activities are designed to cause us to reflect on Dr. King’s work and dreams. We also need to be reminded of his sacrifices. But of all of the activities associated with this day, I suspect that Dr. King would really like those who sponsor “Make A Difference Day” projects where volunteers will gather together to help do something for others.

In his Dec. 10, 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, 35-year-old Martin Luther King said in part:

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.”

Every time that I read this quote, I wonder how many people really believe the powerful words. Why is making those words a reality so hard, I ask. With all of our resources, why can’t we solve the problems that continuously plague our communities? Surely, the fact that King could dream of a better state of things and then encourage us to bring his dream to life ought to motivate us to do what we can do wherever it is that we can do it.

We are fortunate that there are so many people in our community who are already making the dream a reality — and making a difference. Look at the number of volunteer organization and activities that we have and all of the people who volunteer their time and generously share their resources to help these programs succeed. If the King Holiday is “a day of service,” and “a day ON, not a day OFF,” then we have loads of people who are already there. But we can do better and do even more.

So what would Dr. King think about our state of things 38 years after his death? He would have to wonder what in the world went wrong. He might ask if we as people had lost our minds, as we continue to fight wars. After all of his efforts to secure the right to vote for all citizens, he would ask why people don’t vote, and so easily take their hard-won civil rights for granted.

He would also ask why so many still don’t have decent housing, wholesome food to eat, and fair pay for the work that they do. He would have to wonder why so much money is spent for things he would consider frivolous and inconsequential when there are so many basic and fundamental needs that go unmet.

He would have to ask why we still couldn’t have honest and forthright dialogues on race and its influence in our society. He would note that so many churches and other institutions are still segregated and wonder if we are comfortable with not being willing to talk about this.

He would again ask why so many of our schools are still segregated, regardless of what causes them to be. He would also ask why some students perform so poorly, drop out of school, and choose the lifestyles that they do. Would he not also wonder why our prisons require more beds while our colleges have chairs unfilled?

I want to believe that we will recommit ourselves to the dream and that the King Holiday is our reminder that we can all do more to bring our community closer to the dream. Any and all progress is welcomed because making a difference is a good thing.