Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.
Of all the holidays that we observe throughout the year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is perhaps one of the weirdest, for two reasons. First, people pushed hard for it after Dr. King’s assassination, and now that it’s official not everyone in the country recognizes it. Or if they do, they have an odd way of showing it. And second, a lot of people take advantage of this time of year to talk about racial discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement—at one point, some people even called it “Civil Rights Day—and yet it’s called Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it takes place around the time of Dr. King’s birthday.
Let’s address who celebrates vs. who doesn’t first. Now, this doesn’t mean no one in the US recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. Day. At my alma mater, the chaplain always observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day by honoring his work in the Civil Rights Movement during morning chapel. This year, Celebration Cinema will give free Selma tickets to any student who wants one (as I write this, it’s still Sunday night before MLKJ Day). Also this year, Huffington Post beat me to the punch by sharing ten random facts about how Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a national holiday (curses…).
But in addition to the batch of people who observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we also have a batch of those who don’t. According to Wikipedia and Huffington Post, Martin Luther King Jr. Day became official in the mid-1980s, and yet it wasn’t recognized by all fifty states in the country until the year 2000—and even then, there were still states that didn’t see it as a paid holiday. If there are companies and schools that give their employees and students the day off on the third Monday of January, they’re few in number. And of those people who treat it like any other day, how many of them (outside of schools) even spare one moment to think about Dr. King and/or the Civil Rights Movement?
And now, let’s address the name of the holiday. Granted, Dr. King is a mammoth of American history, and I am happy to say we’re still talking about him and everything he stood for. But he wasn’t the only big name involved. Rosa Parks is an important name in the Civil Rights Movement. John Perkins is an important name in the Civil Rights Movement. So of all the people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, what is it about Dr. King in particular that stands out? Why is he the symbol of this point in history?
That’s a hard question to answer, as there are so many people that deserve to be recognized for their convictions and loyalty to this movement. What I will say is this: Dr. King was the one that everyone looked up to, especially after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He made the speeches and became the spokesperson for equality. He advocated for peaceful protests, knowing that “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). He inspired many, comforted many, and led many to where we stand today as the United States of America.
We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as a reminder. On this day, we remember what the good people of this country fought for, and how long and hard they worked to get where we are today. On this day, we remember how far we have to go, and what it takes to evolve even more into a united country. But in addition to the movement itself, we remember a man who gave up his life for what he believed in, and given an honor that only two other Christian martyrs in history—St. Valentine and St. Patrick—had been granted. On this day, we remember the dedication of a brave, wise, and persevering man of God who never laid a finger on his persecutors if he could help it. On this day, we remember a man who chose peaceful protests over fighting fire with fire. On this day, we remember a man who dreamed of a place where his children and many others could live lives filled with freedom and dignity, regardless of what they look like. On this day, we remember a man who invited men and women of different backgrounds and beliefs—black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—to stand together. On this day, we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.
Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “Here’s to you, Dr. King.”
Photo source: http://abcnews.go.com/US/ways-honor-martin-luther-king-jr/story?id=18221627