Dr. King’s Enduring Wisdom

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This week, we have observed the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday.  This day should remind us about his life’s mission – equality for all Americans. By backing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Dr. King fought for equal rights for all Americans, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, or national origin.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is not simply a figure from the past. Fifty-three years after his death, Dr. King’s words and actions remain relevant to the issues that we face today.  Recent acts of violence that were rooted in religious and racial hatred reminded us all that Dr. King’s work still remains to be fulfilled. Across the country over the years, Americans have been killed, just because they were Black, White, Hispanic, Jewish, or members of other groups. The hatred and the violence must stop.

Now, more than ever, we need to respect each other.  Now, more than ever, we must become neighbors.  Now, more than ever, we must work together to become one nation.  As Americans, we have roots in many countries around the world.  As Dr. King said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”  We must not remain in our own silos, caring only about ourselves. Dr. King pointed out that “life’s most persistent and most urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

During Dr. King’s lifetime, Americans tended to think about better community relations as having mostly to do with Blacks and Whites, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.  Since his passing, our country has become much more diverse.  We have more people here now from many other ethnic, racial, and religious groups. The same principles I discussed above still apply to how we should behave towards each other, now with more groups than we had in the 1960s.  Accepting each other, regardless of our ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, and gender or orientation, remains the great challenge of American life.

John Hume, a Catholic civil rights and political leader from Northern Ireland, was inspired by Dr. King.  Mr. Hume said, “Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth, and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

The first step toward a better nation is this: We must recognize everyone who lives here as our fellow Americans.