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Remembering MLK and the fight for equality

On Monday, Jan. 21, this nation recognized civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) with a federal holiday celebrating his birthday (Jan. 15, 1929). It’s a day that Americans honor each year — we hope — in memory of the civil rights leader and his quest to create equality among all races. 

MLK was an amazing man. He was not only a Baptist minister, but he was a humanitarian and activist who followed the teachings of pacifist Mahatma Gandhi. The practice of nonviolent civil disobedience marked a turn in the civil rights movement — and showed the world that fighting for what one believes in needn’t be violent. 

Protesting racial discrimination of the worst kind, Dr. King showed people why everyone deserves fair and equal treatment, that no one should be judged on the color of his or her skin and that all should be guaranteed a chance at peace and prosperity and the American dream. 

His involvement in the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott put him on the map. In 1963, he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington.  The next year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today, when we so easily cast aspersions on people different than ourselves; when we engage in both blatant and latent racist behavior unbecoming to a civilized society; when we lash out and discriminate against people who deserve humane and civil treatment, we understand the need for holidays such as this one.

And it goes beyond racism. Discrimination touches upon so many realms: sexism, ageism, gender identity, sexuality — all areas where people are sometimes treated unfairly and judged superficially.

MLK looked beyond the superficial. He focused on people, on humanity. He focused on what was right, what was just. He protested racial discrimination with all he had, and it cost him his life. Sadly, in 1968, Dr. King was assassinated. His death was a tremendous loss for this country and the fight for equal rights. We mourn him still, and remember his words:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Today, as we continue to struggle for equality among all, it’s important to remember Dr. King’s teachings. Take lessons from his life and integrate them into your reality. When on the cusp of judging someone based on what you see, think about all you don’t see. We all know the adage, you can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s true, you can’t — and more to the point, you shouldn’t. 

People should be valued for their intrinsic value, for doing good work and for striving to be better. Black or white, man or woman, people are people. The Golden Rule always seems to apply: treat people the way you would like to be treated, and beyond that, behave in a way that you would like to see others behave. Carry yourself with dignity, and treat others the same.  Remember, the fight for equal rights isn’t over yet. It takes constant attention and work.

As Dr. King once said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”