Today we commemorate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., who nonviolently protested racial discrimination in federal and state laws. After 15 years of debate, President Ronald Reagan signed a law in 1983 creating a holiday to honor Dr. King. It is observed on the third Monday of January to be close to King’s January 15th birthday. It was eventually officially observed in all 50 states in 2000.
His famous “I have a dream” speech was given in 1963, becoming one of the iconic speeches of American history. While many have never heard or read this speech in its entirety, this is a good day to consider his message. It reflects the words expressed in the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation, that “all men (and women) are guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He was determined that a day when all Americans would walk together is possible. “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Dr. King recognized that a dream does not just happen, that there must be determination and action. To that end, the federal King Holiday and Service Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, challenges all Americans to use this holiday as an opportunity to provide acts of service in his honor. Thousands of individuals and groups participate in various activities aimed at making a difference in their communities all over America, and at many locations throughout the world.
One man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made a difference in his short lifetime with his dream put into action. On this day, it is appropriate that each of us think of how we can make a difference to create a better world. One small change, one act, can ripple into affecting institutions – and people – never imagined. What action can you take, not just today, but into the future? What is your dream?
“When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.’”