When I introduced a resolution to the Milwaukee County Board making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a major county holiday, I did it out of my great respect for the fallen civil rights leader and humanitarian.
I was gratified by my colleagues’ response when they passed the measure unanimously last year. It was more than a symbolic gesture. It was an appropriate way to honor a great American.
This year represents the first in which this day is celebrated as a major holiday by the county, and I call upon everyone to take time to give thoughtful consideration to Dr. King’s legacy. I hope everyone takes the opportunity for quiet contemplation as we consider the contributions Dr. King made not only to the civil rights movement, but to American society itself.
With issues such as segregation, racial injustice and income inequality still prevalent in society, it is long past time to put King’s words into action. Dr. King had a dream in which all people are treated based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We have still not achieved that goal, and we must all pause to consider what his message means in today’s society.
How can you spend this quiet, contemplative time? There are several ways. You can start by reading his words or watching videos of his speeches and giving careful consideration to how you, yourself are working toward achieving the ideals he so fervently sought.
I plan to spend part of the day reading Dr. King’s landmark “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a document that outlines his struggle for justice and equality. Dr. King said in his letter: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
How appropriate those words are today; when injustice still prevails in our society, whether it is through segregation, racial prejudice or income inequality. Or whether it is a police shooting of an innocent man or gun violence that infects our inner cities and causes good people to live in fear.
We must ask ourselves what we are doing to help eliminate these plagues on our society. And do something about it.
Dr. King was an unusual leader in his time. According to the King Center, “While others were advocating for freedom by ‘any means necessary,’ including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. He went on to lead similar campaigns against poverty and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his principles that men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are equal members of the human family.”
Those of us who carry on his legacy still use his tactics to make our voices heard; but it is time for everyone, not just those on the front lines of the civil rights battle, to take part in celebrating that legacy.
I hope that everyone, no matter their race, reflects on his message Monday to help us lead not only to better racial understanding, but to a society of equality, justice and opportunity for all… and do something about it.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Khalif Rainey represents District 2.