Dr. King’s Message is Still Relevant for All

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 1999, I have had the privilege of being involved with the organizing and planning for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.  Over the years, I have often received questions from MLK Day organizers about engaging more people of different racial or ethnic groups—whites, African Americans, and Latinos. The question varies:

  • How do we engage groups that don’t feel the day has relevance for them?
  • How do we engage groups who fear that participating in MLK Day might be viewed as disrespectful because of the perception that the day has stronger significance to other groups?
  • How do we engage groups that celebrate the King Holiday in other ways and may not understand the way we choose to celebrate and honor Dr. King — through parades, prayer breakfasts, dialogues, or community service activities?

While I’m happy that the question is always about engaging more people, it does strike me as ironic that more than 45 years after Dr. King’s death and more than 50 years after the March on Washington and the I Have a Dream speech that we are still challenged by boundaries of race around the holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My favorite quote by Dr. King is “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

For me, this quote really speaks to the connection among all people, and as such provides a foundation for us working together on MLK Day and throughout the year to improve all of our lives. There is room for us to honor and celebrate Dr. King in many different ways. And, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is for all people to honor and celebrate his life and his relevance to all of us today. Volunteer service is the way that I have chosen to celebrate the King Holiday because I believe firmly in that single garment that ties together our destinies. We must strive to improve communities for all because we are inextricably co-dependent.

I asked my colleagues at Campaign Consultation to share what Dr. King and/or the King Holiday means to them. Many also shared a favorite quote; and several of us reflected on the above quote. Here are their responses:

KGKaye Gooch As a child of the 60’s, I was drawn to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of civil disobedience and the power of action by the people.  With the writings of Thoreau and the actions of Gandhi, I was drawn to the example of nonviolent civil disobedience against the dogs and water hoses of the authority figures of the south.  Dr. King formed my belief that action in the street by groups of people acting in civil disobedience can change our world.  Boots on the ground in nonviolent action is power.  The following quote from his Letter from Birmingham Jail speaks to this power.The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a downward spiral, causing the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of weakening evil, it multiplies. Using violence, you can kill the liar, but you cannot kill the lie, nor establish the truth. Using violence, you can kill the hate, but you cannot kill hatred. There hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night without stars. Darkness cannot drive away the darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive hate: only love can do that.”
NTNate Thomas  My favorite quote by Dr. King is, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This quote characterizes how resilience overcomes adversity, and how integrity needs to be tireless in order to sustain in the wake of injustice.
SKSuzanne Knizner As Maryland fought for and secured the Civil Marriage Protection Act in 2012, I repeatedly saw this image…In 40 Yearsand I was reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.When asked what Dr. King’s message means to me, I am overcome by how his message transcends time:  His legacy continues to apply today – emphasizing the need for social justice for all.
HTHieu Truong I’ve had many conversations with different people who, when expressing how cynical they feel about politics, say “things never change.”   Dr. King’s work on poverty and the Civil Rights movement that he helped lead is always the first rejoinder I think of, and to date no one has ever successfully responded to it.“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This quote in particular reminds me of the need to continue that work—even though it’s no longer legal to include racial covenants in property deeds and have separate facilities for people of color, de facto segregation and systematic inequality is still present.  All too often we tend to focus on our own grievances of how things may be unfair for us, but lately I’ve been thinking about how  important it is to be mindful of how we might unconsciously reinforce larger inequalities through the actions and choices we make.

LBRLinda B. Rivelis  MLK Day of Service signifies to me……Dr. King’s mindfulness of what it would take to grow justice for everybody.

His mindfulness to powerfully deliver words that people could hear, absorb and activate appreciation of our similarities and differences.

Through this annual day of service, we have the opportunity to publicly display and reinforce the power of committing ourselves to one another’s well-being through voluntary action.

SGStephanie Moore  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”I find this quote to be so powerful.  I feel that so many of the issues that plague our country are issues that are being ignored by those not directly facing them. Ignoring societal injustices won’t make them disappear.  Until we ensure that all children receive a quality education, every person earns a living wage and has access to affordable quality healthcare, as a society we can’t thrive.
MBMichelle Bond To me, Dr. King’s legacy is about leadership and community. It is about the power of a group of people thinking and acting with one another in mind over their own self-interest.  He was the ultimate catalyst—the spark that was necessary to ignite the other elements that were already in place. Those same elements exist today, in us. Each year, Dr. King’s holiday reminds us that we need to be these same leaders. We need to act with others in mind, be forces for unity, and fight for what is right and fair. I don’t know anyone who lives in a perfect world or a community without struggles. As long as this is the case, Dr. King’s message is meant for each one of us.
DBDemetria Barrett  The life and teachings of Dr. King are extremely relevant today.  Though, through the media and just in everyday interaction with life, it appears that, as a nation, we are forgetting what Dr. King has taught us about human equality and non-violence. Dr. King’s life and teachings boil down to a very simple concept for me:  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Imagine how this world would be if we all truly embodied Dr. King’s life and teachings every day in our own actions and speaking. The possibilities are limitless.
RSRobyn Stegman Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. redefined what it meant to be a leader. “Recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant,” he said, providing a new definition levels that playing field because there are no prerequisites to serve you neighbor. “By giving that definition of greatness,” Dr. King told us, “it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”Today when doing good is often a professional’s job, I think we forget that social change doesn’t require a master degree. I think MLK Day still requires us to by humbled by our service and allow everyone in the community to lead.
On Monday, I hope that you will go out and do something to honor Dr. King, his life, his teachings, and his legacy. Do something that brings people together across the boundaries that he fought so hard to break down. Do something that demonstrates our inescapable network of mutuality. Do something in non-violent protest of an injustice. Do something to show your leadership, treat others the way you want to be treated, or that shows you choose love over hate. If you would like to honor Dr. King through service to others, as he spent so much of his life doing, visit MLKDay.gov and by serving, do something to be great.


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Arthurine Walker

As Vice President at Campaign Consultation, Inc., I work on new business development, external affairs, and project management. My personal passion and professional goal has been to address issues of social and economic inequity and I’m pleased that my work with Campaign Consultation has allowed me to do that. I am a skilled trainer and facilitator with 25 years of professional experience; my work has been focused on community organizing and development through strategic action planning; organizational capacity building; marketing, outreach, and communications; and program management and replication. Read more.

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