Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Hallmarks of His Impact on Diversity

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message of justice and peace resonates to this day. For that, he is as much a “man for all seasons” as is the great Sir Thomas More, King Henry VIII’s legal counsel, who was beheaded for defying the king due to his moral conscience. Decades after his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism continues to have tremendous impact on the promotion of diversity and inclusion.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream – The American Dream

Forty-eight years after Martin Luther King, Jr’s passing, the nation continues to ponder on the legacy of the man who once said “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;” the man who “tried to love and serve humanity and leave a committed life behind.”

MLK’s dream echoed the very same American dream the nation’s forefathers fought hard for, and declared for all Americans. One famous line in the 1776 Declaration of Independence expresses what each citizen dreams for him/herself and their family: “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These ideals – equality and freedom from oppression – are the very same ideals Martin Luther King, Jr. fought so hard for African Americans in his time. 

Even before that, the evils of racism and discrimination pushed Black Americans to the margins of society, and Dr. King’s courageous leadership, peaceful means of protest, stirring speeches, and inspired writings helped end segregation and helped African Americans gain voting rights and attain more equal opportunities in jobs and education – at the cost of his life.

MLK’s Relevance Today: Equality, Freedom & Diversity in America 

Those very same ideals of equality and freedom from oppression are the same ideals the overwhelming majority of Americans value today as well. Yet the same evils of bias and prejudice still exist in American society, despite the passing of laws granting more civil rights for Black Americans and other minority populations. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains, therefore, as relevant as ever.

Today’s context and challenging issues are different from those of that turbulent, divisive period in American history. Life may have become better for many African Americans, yet racial discrimination still plagues, even with a Black president at the helm of the nation.

Hatred due to the color of one’s skin continues to victimize not only African Americans but also other racial and ethnic minorities that now comprise an increasingly diverse United States. Hatred also exists for those deemed ‘different,’ ‘apart,’ ‘foreign,’ or ‘others.’ It is often at the root of violence, oftentimes planned and orchestrated and happening with increasing incidence.

Thus, herein lies the real significance of honoring and remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not only for Black Americans but for all American citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, color, creed, gender, sexual identity/orientation – for military veterans and people with disabilities as well.

An Enduring, Moral Voice From the Past

These are the hallmarks of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lasting impact, particularly on the promotion of diversity and inclusion. His is a strong, moral voice from whom the nation can continue learning how to chart its present and future courses of action on the way to a more just, unified, peaceful nation, especially as America’s diversity continues to grow:

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr. – A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches)

A moral exemplar, Dr, King lived by what he preached, a worthy trait to emulate. He helped shaped America as it is today. By remembering him and his efforts toward the attainment of basic human rights for Black Americans, present-day Americans can draw parallels between past and present events, which can help better address current issues and influence how our future is shaped and defined.

His contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for fairness, freedom, and justice for the poor and oppressed serve as timely lessons for today’s America. The pressing issues now, apart from racial hatred and discrimination, echo the struggles in Dr. King’s time. Lack of equal opportunities for women and minorities, unemployment, poverty, guns and violence, and challenges to diversity and inclusion – these are problems Martin Luther King, Jr. would strongly feel about and fight against.

His writings and speeches, his life dedicated to the betterment of  Black Americans and other marginalized people, are a fount of inspiration for American policymakers, organizations, communities, and individuals working diligently to eradicate the vestiges of injustice, oppression, poverty, and other social ills.

Dr. King’s Beacon of Peace and Hope

Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Thus, through his words, the character of the man is known. And that is another hallmark of Dr. King’s continuing relevance.

His enormous efforts towards the progress of liberty, justice, equality, and peace for all led him to be honored with the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and be named Man of the Year by Time Magazine two years in a row (in 1963 and 1964). Dr. King also continued to receive recognition and awards even after his death.

The following quotes are attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.: 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

 “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

His is a life that challenges present and future generations to live out the ideals and principles he stood and died for. It is important for Americans today to know and understand their history. When people feel far removed from history, they risk committing the same mistakes past generations did. In addition, people tend to become indifferent to the plight of others when their struggles do not directly affect them.

This should be a rallying point for this generation and onward, to pass on timeless values such as unity, fairness, and equality. Teaching the young about the evils of racism, racial hatred, and discrimination will go a long way toward the establishment of a fair, just, and humane society.

Meaningful ways of honoring the man who fought so hard to gain civil rights for his people is to:

  • Become agents of change
  • Become a voice for the oppressed and marginalized
  • Exert efforts to overcome stereotyping, racial prejudice, and biases.

In an increasingly diverse America, this challenge becomes all the more imperative. When Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream that no one “be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” becomes a fully-lived reality, with diversity and inclusion embraced as a way of life by all, then his death will not have been in vain.