Today the US stops (mostly) to remember and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. –known as MLK– for his work and legacy, redefining what it means to fight for the right to be equal. I was too little to remember Dr. King’s speeches from when he was alive but I do remember the aftermath of his death. My family moved to New York City in 1967; on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot while preparing to lead a protest march in Memphis, Tennessee. Either that same evening or the next day (news traveled a lot more slowly back then), the mayor of New York asked the city to stay calm and said that the city’s leaders would continue Dr. King’s work to end poverty. We saw, in school and on the nightly news, other cities in the US erupt in flames as grief and anger overcame Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence and working with the political system to create change. My parents wondered if I’d be safe, walking the few blocks to school — and I was. New York was far from perfect in the 1960s, but this was something to be proud of.
Unfortunately, it took his assassination to cause adults to talk to us about freedom, equality, poverty and nonviolence. But once those conversations start, they cannot be stopped and I’m sure they profoundly changed my views of the world, and those of the other little kids in the classrooms and living rooms around the US.
Dr. King’s legacy only grew after his death and, at least in the schools I attended in New York, his work and speeches came front and center in the curriculum. If you have a few minutes, it’s worth your time to read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail and watch his most famous speech, I Have A Dream.
His words about how we are all connected, how every human being matters, are as true today as they were when he first wrote them.
Image credit: Nobel Prize, Nobel Media AB