Are we free at last? – A reflection for Dr. King’s birthday

Originally published on maaia.com on January 16, 2012

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. -Martin Luther King, Jr.  1929-1968

As I pause this year, to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am wrestling with the notion that many Americans still hold: that today is primarily a African American or “black” holiday. While Dr. King’s struggles were rooted in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, his words can be read in any context for inspiration. His message of opposition to injustice through non-violence and civil disobedience, coupled with his optimism for humanity, spans all colors, religions and cultures.

It can seem easy to look back with disdain on now-defunct institutions of injustice such as legalized segregation in the United States or apartheid in South Africa. However, there are many such unjust institutions that persist today which continue to strip dignity and rights from vast groups of people be it blacks, gays, Hispanics and even women. In the context of these modern injustices, we are often afraid as individuals to sound too political or divisive and so we as a society allow these inequities to continue.

If we do not teach our children the wider value of this holiday and we fail to impart the same fervor for justice for all people that Dr. King preached for the races divided in the 1960s, we ignore the context of what his words mean in the present. When we focus strictly on Dr. King’s speeches as they relate to segregation 45 years ago, we ignore what he would most definitely say about the injustices that persist today.

As we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy this year, let us not forget that his dream is not realized until all people, not just blacks and whites, have come together as brothers and sisters.