The third Monday of each January is recognized as an important day to celebrate and act upon the legacy, vision and the moral and performance character of Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader who positively changed attitudes, mindsets and practices of his society for the greater good of everyone.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s status as a heroic icon is as relevant today as was the case in 1963 when he led the march on Washington. The recent gamut of documentaries, series, and films in Canada and the United States that bring to life the specific experiences of the civil rights movements of mid-20th Century, demonstrates that amid adversities and successes, King’s leadership resources and strategies are still important in addressing current issues of our time in the push for a fairer and more inclusive society that provides everyone with the opportunity to achieve their full aspirations. Hopefully, these 21st century rekindling of the civil rights movements will educate and inspire the next generation on the timeless lessons and values of living in a globally diverse society that requires the full participation of everyone.
In his quest for a fair, equal and inclusive society, Martin Luther King, Jr. had demonstrated exceptional courageous leadership and fearless advocacy for racial equality and political, economic and social justice.
The cause of racial equality that King championed has had a significant positive impact on my life, as I am a beneficiary of his struggles and triumph. For example, I am an avid user of public transit in cities across Canada and the United States, and I am able to travel in any section of the vehicle where there is an available seat. The bus boycott of Montgomery in the 1950s demonstrated that a strong and concerted effort led by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. helped to dismantle and eliminate the segregationist ‘Jim Crow Laws’, and create a society where there is full integration in all spaces.
During my three years of living and working as an educator in Los Angeles county in the United States, my race and color were not barriers to my freedom of movement and opportunity, thanks to the life work of King, Rosa Parks and other heroes of the civil rights movement.
In making visible, the impact of making change happen, I have been inspired not to be a bystander to social injustice. I believe it is important for me to have an inclusionary perspective and to infuse my character with an equity world view. In situations where I have or continue to encounter individual or systemic barriers, I contest such practices.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s positive impact on people across the globe who sought models of courageous leadership in their quest to transform their societies into inclusive multiracial democracies that were free of discrimination resonates n this day devoted to his legacy.
King’s message has been embraced by blacks and people of other racial origins/cultural communities because the character attributes he embodied are essential to social harmony in cities of global diversity, where people of all backgrounds interact with each other daily in the workplace, schools and recreation spaces.
His example from the U.S. civil rights movement also has been emulated by groups who have sought and won equality rights based on gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, family status, disability and other equity considerations.
This demonstrates the significance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day: the idea of a future where people are not judged by color or any other physical characteristic, but by character.
King believed that “intelligence plus character … is the goal of true education.” In this respect, King in both word and deed demonstrated many of the character attributes that are essential to building and sustaining great communities. His efforts received international recognition through his induction as Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1964.
The character-building attributes that exemplified King’s life and times included a focus on positive conflict resolution, peace, service to community, courage, compassion, fairness, inclusion, resilience, optimism and change.
I believe that these character attributes are universal across all diversities and better serve communities of globally diverse citizens by creating habits of everyday practice that develop, nurture and sustain social harmony among citizens.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day of significance that provides an opportunity for us to celebrate character and its relevance to the diverse global community that resides here in the Greater Toronto Area.
As we celebrate King’s legacy, it is a fact that amid prosperity, affluence and the hubs of highly educated knowledge communities, there are still exceptional circumstances including violent crime, racial profiling, poverty, economic inequality, lack of opportunity, gun violence, under-education, and a growing underclass.
This contradiction demonstrates that binaries exist and there are the “haves” and the “have-nots” in terms of full access to opportunities. The challenge is for people of all diversities to demonstrate King’s character attributes by adopting communities of need and providing the supports necessary to reduce risk factors and eliminate disparities where they exist.
Such leadership would count as a commitment to equity, social responsibility and moving everyone along on the road to progress and an improved quality of life.
Does the content of our good character attributes compel us to pay attention to and join in efforts to find sustainable solutions? It is up to all of us to realize King’s dream by providing leadership to lift up those most at risk in our communities.
I am sure that this is what King would have wanted us to do in his name as we commemorate the day devoted to his legacy.
If we nurture in every one of us the good character attributes that King personified, it would go a long way in accelerating social harmony, innovation, opportunity and prosperity for everyone regardless of race, background, city or region.
First published by Gary Pieters in the Toronto Star January 11, 2007. Revised and republished by Gary Pieters for the HuffPost Black Voices in January 2014.