On January 21st, America will be celebrating perhaps its greatest social hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In that interim since his untimely death, we as a nation have achieved many of his goals, yet his work remains unfinished. On the holiday commemorating the achievements of this great leader, we should also remember all of his timeless teachings, and consider how we can apply these lessons to modern society.
Dr. King’s most profound position regarding social change was nonviolence. He asserted that we must remain peaceful in our protest. Peaceful protest was King’s demonstration that he shall not bow to the ways of his oppressors, that he would display love and respect for those around him, and if his protests meant getting into trouble, it was worth it. Following the protests of Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, it seems that nowadays protests are becoming less and less nonviolent. We must be mindful that violence can hurt our cause, and we must raise ourselves above those who act unjustly towards us.
However, aside from these social stances, Dr. King’s other opinions seem to be often overlooked by society. The environmental movement we see today used Dr. Kings lines of argument when their campaign to address climate change took off shortly after his death. Dr. King often spoke of how all life is interconnected, and we therefore should be taking care of all of it. In addition, he also discussed economic transformation. He distrusted the American economic system, and, towards the end of his life, began discussing ways to address economic disparity. He argued for universal healthcare and education, and more public spaces and the nationalization of certain industries. He witnessed the segregation of his fellow protesters in the economy, and saw these as ways to address it.
Whether you agree with all of his points, or only a select few, Martin Luther King Jr. was perhaps the most influential figure of the twentieth century, and his speeches touched the hearts of millions. His presence the American story is so pivotal that we have a national holiday to remember his lessons. So, staying true to his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, we should all be asking ourselves if his dream came true. Furthermore, we should be thinking about how each of us plays a part in making that dream a reality, and what we can do to play that part more effectively.