Martin Luther King's Dream: The American Dream
48 years since Martin Luther King, Jr's life was extinguished, the nation continues to ponder on the legacy of the man who once said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character;” the man who “tried to love and serve humanity and leave a committed life behind.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream echoed the very same American Dream the nation's forefathers fought hard for, and declared for all Americans.
The American Dream. One famous line in the 1776 Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson, expresses what each citizen dreams for him/herself and their families: “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Those ideals – equality and freedom from oppression - were the very same ideals Martin Luther King, Jr. fought hard for African Americans in his time. Even before that, the evils of racism and discrimination pushed Black American people to the margins of society, and Dr. King's courageous leadership, peaceful means of protest and stirring speeches and writings inspired, helped end the segregation between whites and black people, gain equal opportunities in jobs and education as well as voting rights for African Americans at a great cost to his life.
Those very same ideals of equality and freedom from oppression – are the same ideals Americans today value as well.
Relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yet, today, the same evils still exist in American society, despite the passing of the laws granting more civil rights for African American people. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains, therefore, as relevant as ever.
Today's context and challenging issues are different from those of that turbulent, divisive period in American history, life may have become better for many African Americans, yet racial discrimination still plagues, even with a Black president at the helm of the nation.
Hatred due to one's color of skin continues to victimize not only African Americans, but also other racial and ethnic minorities that now comprise the ever-diversifying American society.
Hatred also exists for those deemed 'different,' 'apart,' 'foreign,' 'others.' Hatred is often at the root of violence and killings, oftentimes, planned and orchestrated, happening with increasing incidence.
Thus, herein lies the real significance of honoring and remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not only for African Americans, but for all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, color, creed, gender, sexual identity/orientation, for military vets and disabled people as well.
These are the two hallmarks of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s lasting impact, particularly on the promotion of diversity and inclusion.
A Moral Voice from the Past
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. - A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Martin Luther King, Jr. is a strong moral voice from the past from whom the nation can learn much to chart its present and future courses of action, on the way to a more just, unified, peaceful nation, amid its growing diversity. A moral exemplar, he lived by what he preached, a worthy trait to emulate.
Dr. King helped shaped the America it is today. Remembering him and his works toward the attainment of basic human rights for Black Americans in his time, present-day Americans can draw parallels between the past and current events, inform and help them to better address present issues, influence how they shape their future and define themselves.
His contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, in the struggle for fairness, freedom and justice for the poor and oppressed, serve as timely lessons for today's American society because the pressing issues now, apart from racial hatred and discrimination, echo similar struggles in King's time.
Lack of equal opportunities for women and minorities, unemployment, poverty, guns and violence, and challenges to the promotion of diversity and inclusion – these are problems Martin Luther King, Jr. would strongly feel about and fight against.
His writings and speeches, his dedicated life for the betterment of Black Americans and other marginalized people, are a fount of inspiration for American policymakers, organizations, communities and individuals working diligently to eradicate the vestiges of injustice, oppression, poverty and other social ills.
A Beacon of Peace and Hope
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. - A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Thus, through his words, the character of the man is known. And that is another hallmark of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s continuing relevance to American people.
His enormous efforts towards the attainment of liberty, justice, equality and peace became worthy of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and being named Man of the Year by Time Magazine two years in a row, in 1963 and 1964. King also received recognition and awards even after his death.
Call to Action
From Martin Luther King, Jr. come the following quotes:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
His is a life that challenges today's and future generations to live out the ideals and principles he stood and died for. Yet it is important for Americans today to know, understand their history.
When people feel far removed from history, they risk committing the same pitfalls as the past generations did. In addition, people tend to become indifferent to the plight of others that do not affect them directly.
This should be a rallying point then for this generation and onwards, to pass on good values such as brotherhood/sisterhood, unity, fairness. Teaching the young about the evils of racism, and racial hatred and discrimination will go a long way in the establishment of fair, just, humane society.
A meaningful way of honoring the man who fought hard to attain liberty from oppression and gain human rights for his people, more than merely organizing and participating in special events during the special day designated for him, is to:
- become agents of change;
- become the voice for the oppressed and marginalized;
- exert efforts in overcoming stereotyping, racial prejudices and biases – for these negative attitudes will only lead to division and strife, as gleaned from a careful study of the past.
In an increasingly diversified America, this challenge becomes all the more imperative. When Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream that no one “ be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” becomes a fully lived reality, with diversity working in every sector of society and inclusion is embraced as a way of life by all, then his death will not have been in vain.