Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Beyond “freedom,” the messages and their lasting meaning

~Lurma Rackley

Many people know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the pivotal role he played in inspiring and coalescing the masses in the non-violent civil rights movement for voting rights, equality and an end to legal segregation. But his role in working with other leaders – including Whitney M. Young, former executive director of the National Urban League – to press for fairness and economic justice is often forgotten, yet it is equally important. In fact, the 1964 protest march in the nation’s capital, the one that made Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech famous, was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

When Dr. King was shot to death in Memphis in 1968, he was in that city to stand shoulder to shoulder with unionized sanitation workers who were striking for fair treatment and fair pay. Dr. King saw their cause through the lens of his Poor People’s campaign that highlighted the need for economic equality and social justice – for all people.

A man of deep spiritual faith, Dr. King wanted to see an end to hate and a blossoming of love. He wanted to see peace, an end to violence and war globally.

This week, as we mark the April 4th date Dr. King was assassinated, let us resolve to put our power toward pushing our country toward his vision of a society in which people are respected, treated fairly, share equitably in the nation’s bounty, and actually love one another here at home and around the world.

In Atlanta, Dr. King’s birth home, let’s honor his legacy by working together for the economic empowerment of all of the youth, adults and families that are struggling to survive and thrive, despite an economy that is doing well. To achieve Dr. King’s Dream, let’s band together to focus on awakening state legislators to the moral imperative and economic benefits of the passage of equitable legislation in the next Legislative Session to include the establishment of a statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour. Let’s call for needs-based scholarships for post-secondary education; expansion of state contracting with minority and women owned firms; and funding for high quality public education available in every neighborhood, no matter where children live. Let’s demand criminal justice reform that helps dismantle the pipeline to prison; resources to build adequate, affordable and quality housing, and an end to homelessness; and access to affordable health care for all.

Let us also work to open doors of opportunity and provide access to contracts and capital for business development and training for career advancement in high demand sectors that lead to livable wages and more for everyone who is willing to embrace education and skills building, responsibility, and hard work for themselves, for their families and for the good of the wider community.

As we encounter people and messages in mass media and social media that reflect divisive themes or discriminatory practices, let’s push back and vow that we will be part of a Movement for Civility, Empowerment and Non-Violence in the spirit of Dr. King. When we encounter injustice and see the need for change, let’s ask ourselves “What would Dr. King do?” And most importantly, let’s take bold steps together toward sustainable and measurable change.

Please join the Urban League of Greater Atlanta in honoring Dr. King and making the commitment to carry on his work for non-violent social change, economic justice, civil rights and love for generations to come by partnering and collaborating until we all “reach the Mountaintop” Dr. King envisioned.