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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Inclusion and Achieving the Dream

Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act - MLK behind him
Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act - MLK behind him

Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act - MLK behind him

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. For those of you outside the United States, it doesn’t seem to sound like much, just another federal holiday marking the birthday of some other “famous personage.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (it always sounds odd to my ear to have both titles in there) was a minister and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is mostly remembered for his civil disobedience and use of nonviolent protest to end racial discrimination in America; an end to segregation. What I always like to consider is that his vision was much much broader – he also was a proponent of efforts to end poverty and was staunchly against the Vietnam war. There is so much more to his story – he visited India, specifically Gandhi’s birthplace and it had a profound impact on his belief in nonviolent action as a way of demanding change; one of his closest advisers was a gay man and there is a direct line from his activities to those of the disability movement. According to Arlene Mayerson from the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Inc. (DREDF)

“Like the African Americans who sat in at segregated lunch counters and refused to move to the back of the bus, people with disabilities sat in federal buildings, obstructed the movement of inaccessible buses, and marched through the streets to protest injustice. And like the civil rights movements before it, the disability rights movement sought justice in the courts and in the halls of Congress.”

Today is a day to think about who we are and who we want to be. As individuals and as a country. Inclusion, not exclusion. I have to admit, I fall into the trap as easy as other people. It is so much simpler to join against something than it is to join FOR something. Across the internet, I’m sure today, I’ll hear snippets of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the rally at the Lincoln Memorial. And it is amazing and electrifying, even years later. It gives me goosebumps as much as “Four score and seven years ago…” and “Today is a day that will live in infamy…” But on that amazing, electrifying day, women were nowhere to be seen on the program; not one was on the program to speak.

This isn’t meant to be an indictment of King or any other luminaries, but as this is a day of remembrance, and of service and of thoughtful reflection on injustice and discrimination, it is a good time to remember our own blind spots and perhaps rededicate ourselves to greater awareness. Men, women, white, black, able-bodies, gay, straight, poor, rich, conservative, liberal…does it matter? Should it? We can’t help but categorize. We can’t stop that automatic labeling but we can be more aware of it and we can be willing to push our own personal thinking. It is only by recognizing the inherent value and humanity in each person that we truly can achieve the dream alluded to by Martin Luther King.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.