Living the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Debbie Head works in the marketing department at Eerdmans and handles many things Web-related. When playing Two Truths and a Lie, she declares her love for snorkeling, confesses her weakness for Indian food, and pretends she can sleep in until noon.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday. Today, thousands of volunteers around the United States will take a “day on, not a day off” to serve their neighborhood and nation in memory of the great civil rights leader who dreamed of a better society. This service is a fitting response to the incredible legacy left by Martin Luther King Jr.
When I visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit for the first time last summer, I was reminded of just how long and difficult the African American struggle for freedom and justice in the United States has been, and how I have benefited from it. The exhibit’s opening film documented much of this painful history including the abysmal journey from African to American soil and the formative changes that shaped them into a new and distinct people.
As an American who was raised in postcolonial Africa and has since lived there as an adult, I have wrestled with my identity when living in cultures that were not my own. I have also listened to young African friends wrestle with theirs as urban, westernized Africans. And so, I was struck by the film’s portrayal of the deep, personal loss experienced by the people who arrived in the slave ships—they lost the freedom to retain who they were. As I watched the film, I sensed the magnitude of that crisis in a new way and felt a greater level of respect for their accomplishment as a people. Together, they created and held on to a new cultural identity, and their struggle through the civil rights movement to secure equal dignity and justice for that identity secured my freedom to value and hold on to my own.
So much more than the freedom to be ourselves and to be friends with those who differ from us came from the hard work and service of people who lived before Dr. King. He followed in their footsteps with his sacrificial dedication to bring liberty and justice for all.
Who else, then, should we remember and honor through service today? Who else gave their lives for the dream that Dr. King expressed? Carol Boston Weatherford and Tim Ladwig’s beautiful children’s book, The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights, illustrates the Sermon on the Mount with images of some of those heroes whom we should also remember alongside Dr. King today.
|Richard Allen organized the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first black denomination.|
|Harriet Tubman led countless slaves out of bondage.|
The U.S. Colored Troops gave their lives in the Civil War.
|Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman college.|
|Rosa Parks made a public statement.|
|Ruby Bridges had the courage to be the change.|
Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned freedom and justice in America.
These men and women gave more than a day of service for freedom and justice. They gave up their comfort, their security, their energy — even, sometimes, their lives — for a cause that still needs to be served.
As an average citizen, I have often wondered how I can ever contribute to a cause as grand as that of “freedom and justice.” I am not a civil rights activist or a lawyer. I am not a dynamic speaker or a famous author. I may never start a college or lead a demonstration. In fact, I probably never will.
Over time, I have come to realize that I can only play a part in any cause, and that although my role may be small, that’s okay — as long as I play it. So, today, I can tell you about this little book that teaches children about justice, care, beauty, and the long, courageous struggle for racial equality in America. Tomorrow, I can give people who are different from me the freedom to be themselves. I can even be their friend. And every day thereafter I can live with less so that I have more left over to share with those who play their own role. In any case, I am daily given the opportunity to shoulder my God-given responsibility to serve.
Martin Luther King Jr. and many others served in memorable ways. Hopefully you and I will follow their example. My own goal is not to let myself become discouraged when I fail or my efforts appear insignificant (or I feel complacent), but each day to make the small choices to serve that together could add up to a lifetime of service. Perhaps today is a day for you to remember your goals as well and to renew your commitment to serve as one of the thousands across the United States.