It hasn’t been quite four months since Americans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Yet here we come to the national holiday set aside to honor the slain civil rights leader and to consider his dream, his accomplishments, and, of course, what remains.
Among the many remarkable things about the Rev. King is that his fight for what he believed in excluded violence as a tactic. That disappointed some, but it inspired countless others and set the Rev. King apart from those who resorted to violence to try to halt his crusade for equal rights and equal opportunities for all.
His rhetoric, his example and the marches he led drove elected leaders in Washington and in some states to outlaw discriminatory policies that were never anything less than inhumane and that today are unthinkable.
We can thank him and others who supported him for the fact that young children today respond in disbelief when told that in parts of the United States, blacks — simply because they were black — once couldn’t drink from the same water fountain or sit at the same lunch counter as whites.
And in urging us to look beyond the color of a person’s skin to “the content of their character,” the Rev. King strengthened the character of countless millions of Americans. That was — and remains — a beautiful dream.
Sadly, ignorance and discrimination haven’t vanished. Discrimination, perhaps less blatant but still acutely painful, exists and in some parts of our country is growing. And one way to honor the Rev. King’s memory is to confront discrimination and inequality in whatever form we find it.
We can do this by ensuring that our own children grow up with respect for people who are different from them and intercede on behalf of people who are discriminated against.
We also can make a positive difference in our communities by offering our services wherever they are needed. One practical Martin Luther King Day tradition has become the Day of Service. That’s occurring Monday, and local organizers hope to mobilize at least 300 volunteers to participate in projects that benefit youth and the environment and alleviate hunger, homelessness or other problems.
But even if you’re not part of one of those efforts, we encourage neighbors or school children who have the day off from school to spend a few hours to perform some modest community service.
That might not right all of the world’s wrongs, but it’s a start.