Earlier this year my company announced that we would be closed today in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. My reaction: Finally. It’s disappointing (but not shocking) that some businesses across the country take the observance of this national holiday as optional.
The impact of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States is undeniable. It’s hard and terrifying to imagine what this country would be like without that movement. The gains made during that era continue to impact our lives today. They birthed a new nation.
Observing MLK day is much bigger than the celebration of one leader. It’s taking a moment to remember the resilience of black people. It’s for the many leaders of the movement we remember, like Dr. King, and those we never learn enough about: Kwame Toure, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, just to name a few.
Many of us have faced the question of how do we honor the legacy of those who came before.
Today, we have our own movement: The Black Lives Matter Movement. We’ve created a direct response to the physical, economic and psychological violence against black people in the United States.
Social action is extremely personal.There isn’t any one right way to do it. And in honor of Dr. King, let’s use his words as a reminder that we can honor big legacies in small ways every single day.
1. Serve “Everyone has the power for greatness -- not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” -Dr. King
King’s life is defined by the work he chose to do. He put his life and the life of his family in danger, but that’s because the call to serve was greater than fear. Dedicating your life to service is not easy, but it's worth it. It doesn’t have to be big. Start small. Do what you can, when you can. Try signing up for career day at a local school, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or sending a donation to a cause close to your heart. Those small acts will add up, and, whether you believe it or not, they do have an impact.
2. Have Faith “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” -Dr. King
How much faith was required for King to believe that things could change for black people in America? In the face of defiant injustice, death, the constant threat of his own death, and a government resistant to sweeping change, he held on to the belief that his work was not in vain. He continued to do the work.
3. Recognize the humanity of all "Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”-Dr. King
It’s really easy to recognize the privileges of everyone else but we all have some kind of privilege.The very first step in seeing the humanity in everyone is recognizing the ways you are privileged. Anything from education level to being able bodied is a privilege. It’s not enough to seek equality for yourself while other groups of people suffer from injustice.
4. Have your own dream “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." -Dr. King
We can all view the world as this is an awful place that will never change. Or we can view the world, asking “what if?” King was not afraid to imagine a new world where black people had the same rights as white people in America. Dreaming of a world much different from our current reality is a gift of many creatives and leaders.
5. Stand for something “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.” -Dr. King
I’m not sure I’m at the point where I’m willing to die for anything but I’m definitely more than willing to take a stand. This isn’t even a political stand but a stand of what is right in whatever arena you might find yourself in. What are you willing to die for? These were not just words for Dr. King, he knew his life was in constant danger, but he kept pushing forward. Doing the work that serves others in an authentic way definitely moves past the fear of dying for it.
6. Think Critically about Justice “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King
Social activism can sometimes feel like you’re playing “oppression olympics.”Who has it the worst in the race for the most oppressed people in the world? Dr. King reminds us that’s the wrong question. We can never be satisfied with justice for ourselves without ensuring justice for all.
7. Act with resilience “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” -Dr. King
Finally, we must act. Even the smallest acts each and every day, for the things we believe in, can begin to change the tide towards transformation. Those acts might not result in exactly what you want. Don’t let that to make you bitter. Learn from it, and, more importantly, keep going.