Today, we formally remember Martin Luther King and the principles for which he gave his life. When I think of Dr. King, social justice, nonviolence, and peace come immediately to mind. I feel inspired - my eyes opened by the wisdom he communicated. He spoke to all of us, offering insight, vision, hope.
I see a world where everyone takes on responsibility to improve the world, to improve the lives of others, to serve others. I see a world where respect for one another means appreciating diversity while at the same time engaging with others in the search for new understanding, recognizing that none of us frail creatures can yet supply all the answers for everything that humanity needs to know.
Dr. King destroyed social and legal barriers, and he raised the consciousness of all of us - Black, White, and others - enabling us to know that long-term traditions could change, that centuries old injustices could be righted. Change has certainly happened; but much remains to be done. Legalized segregation and exclusion in the United States disappeared decades ago, because of the advocacy of Martin Luther King and others who followed his lead; but disparities persist. Access to education, health care, housing, employment has not become equal for people of all races. Racial differences in test scores and graduation rates, for example, show clearly that we have a long way to go to transform our school systems into places that can meet the needs we have as a diverse society. Effective education that eliminates disparities is a moral imperative. It's also a practical reality that our increasingly diverse cities and regions cannot thrive unless we nurture the abilities of all of our residents.
This day has become a "holiday". Holiday status - alongside days like Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving - conveys the importance of the work of Dr. King. Unfortunately, the "three day weekend" mentality can let us lapse into forgetfulness. Let's encourage one another to do at least one thing on this day to learn about democracy, freedom, equality. Even if we plan a day of recreation or shopping, let's all first watch an MLK Day event, listen to a lecture, watch one of the many special news features on TV today. Let's try to learn at least one thing that we didn't know before, and think about how we might use this new knowledge during the year.
We must pay attention to the future, not just to the day. This is not simply a holiday to celebrate, then move on. Rather, we need to focus on how to turn King's dream into real life experiences for all of us everyday.