BY Chinemerem Nwanze
On the third Monday of January every year, schools and workplaces are closed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., arguably one of the most influential activists during the civil rights era of the 1960s. While we may know of him based on his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King’s messages are much more relevant in today’s society than we might think.
Who Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
Named after Martin Luther (a critical figure in the emergence of the Protestant Reformation), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, to Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Growing up in the then segregated South, Dr. King Jr.’s earliest encounters with activism included seeing his father ignoring a policeman who called him [King Sr.] a racial slur and his father walking out of a store after the white store owner refused to serve him at the front of the store. In 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and continued to fight for the rights of Black people / African Americans until his assassination in 1968.
“I Have a Dream”
Like I mentioned earlier, Dr. King Jr. is widely known because for his “I Have a Dream” speech, which he gave at the March on Washington in 1963. This impactful 17 minute speech is regarded as a catalyst in bringing civil rights advancements, as it played a role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Why Dr. King Matters in 2019
In his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Dr. King Jr. states, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.” The United States may have been established on the basis of equality for all, but actions speak much louder than words – and currently, American society is not really reflective of equality for all. For example, a 2018 analysis of FBI data showed that in 2012, Black people made up 31% of deaths by police brutality despite making up only 13% of the US population. Also, in 2016, the Pew Research Center discovered that college educated Black / Hispanic men made about 80% of what a college educated white man would make. College educated Black / Hispanic women made less than 70% of what a college educated white man would make. The discrimination going on doesn’t have to be limited to race, either. For example, the wage gap between [white] men and [white] women is 19.5% as of 2018. In 2016, roughly 127 American Muslims were victims of aggravated assault. While America has progressed, as evident by the fact that Black people don’t have to sit at the back of the bus and women can vote, there is much more work to be done until it reaches equality. Additionally, Dr. King Jr. states, “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.” This phrase is very important because considering the fact that Donald Trump, president of the United States, said that “laziness is a trait in Blacks,” referred to Mexican immigrants as “criminals and rapists,” and called a Miss Universe winner of Hispanic heritage “Miss Housekeeping,” it is pretty evident that whether we want to admit it or not, America does make certain assumptions about people based on their color. Whether a person is a criminal is dependent on how moral they are, and a person’s morality has nothing to do with their race – in fact, criminals come in many different colors and sizes. These stereotypes even affect children, as black children are almost twice as likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts.
It’s 2019, and the United States needs to further progression so that everyone is treated equally and with respect, regardless of their color, gender, or religion. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died trying to ensure that people of color got the rights they deserved, and it’s only fair that we continue his fight for a better future.