“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15 January 1929. He would have been 88 years old last Sunday, had he lived. Yesterday, we celebrated not only his birthday, but also his life and legacy. Martin Luther King Day celebrates not only Dr. King, but the movement he inspired and all those who helped move forward the notion of equal rights for ALL races, all those who worked tirelessly during the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as those who are continuing the good fight even in this, the year 2017.
Dr. King, along with President John F. Kennedy, was the most moving speaker I have ever heard. To this day, I cannot listen to his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech without tears filling my eyes. If you haven’t heard it for a while, take a few minutes to watch/listen … I promise it will be worth it.
This post is both a commemoration and a plea for us to carry on the work that was only begun, not yet finished, five decades ago. Today we should remember some of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, those who worked tirelessly, some who gave their lives, that we could all live in peace and harmony someday: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Roy Innes, Medgar Evers, Booker T. Washington, John Lewis, Percy Julian, Marcus Garvey, Desmond Tutu, E.D. Nixon, James Meredith, and so many more. I am willing to bet there are some on this list of whom you’ve never heard, or perhaps recognize the name but not the accomplishments. If you’re interested, you can find brief biographies of each of these and more at Biography.com .
Yet, while we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and the others, there is still much to be done. Just look around you, read the news each day. Think about these statistics:
- More than one in five black families live in households that are food insecure, compared to one in ten white families
- Almost four in ten black children live in a household in poverty, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
- Among prime-age adults (ages 25 to 54), about one in five black men are not in the labor force, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
- Although blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are over 3 and a half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession
- For every dollar earned by a white worker, a black worker only makes 74 cents
- Black families are twice as likely as whites to live in substandard housing conditions
- Black college graduates now have twice the amount of debt as white college graduates
- The likelihood of a black woman born in 2001 being imprisoned over the course of her lifetime is one in 18, compared to 1 in 111 for a white woman
- Similarly, the likelihood of a black man being imprisoned is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for a white man
- Of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, about half of them will still be there as adults, compared to less than one-quarter of white children
Data courtesy of the Brookings Institute – for charts and supporting details of above date, please click on link.
And of course the above data does not even touch upon the recent spate of hate crimes, racial profiling, and police shootings against African-Americans. There is still much of Dr. King’s work to be accomplished. But who is left to do this work? Most of the leaders of yore are long since gone. There are still noble and courageous people out there carrying on the programs and works of Dr. King and the others, but their voices are perhaps not as loud, and there are none so charismatic as the late Dr. King.
In the current environment of racial divisiveness, we need more than ever to carry on what Dr. King only started. In a few days we will usher in a new president, a new administration, most of whom are not fighters for equality, many of whom actually support the tenets of white supremacy. There are already signs that the U.S. is headed backward down the path from which we have come. Trump himself has made racist statements and his father was affiliated with the KKK, even being arrested as he participated in a Klan rally in 1927. Jeff Sessions who will, in all likelihood become the U.S. Attorney General is a proven racist. And in cities all around the U.S., racial incidents are on the rise.
Consider this: The City of Biloxi, Mississippi, decided to rename Martin Luther King Day. They decided, in fact, to combine it with a celebration for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the man who fought to keep slavery! Biloxi renamed the “joint celebration” Great Americans Day. What a slap in the face to Dr. King and all those who worked with him and who have followed in his footsteps! After much hue and cry, it is said that the city is reconsidering the name change, but I think it speaks volumes that somebody thought this was a good idea to start with.
In a speech on April 12th, 1850, then-Senator and future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:
“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men.” 
That was wrong then, it is wrong today, and it will always be wrong. That is what Dr. Martin Luther King fought against, that is what I rail and sometimes rant against, that is why we need activists and groups dedicated to fighting for equality for all people … today, tomorrow, and forever. Dr. King fought and ultimately gave his life for the values I believe in, the values that should define this nation, though they often do not. Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero of his time … thank you, Dr. King, for all you did, for the values you gave this nation, and for the hope you instilled in us all that your dream will someday come true.
 (Kendi, 2016)