Black lives matter: MLK Jr.’s living legacy
Protests against police brutality continuation of fight against racism
Students in American classrooms are taught about iconic figures in a gradual manner. At first, Martin Luther King, Jr. was simply a man who had a dream. A few years later, students learn that not only did he have a dream, but that he believed in nonviolence and led peaceful protests. Finally, students learn that he was unjustly jailed and tragically assassinated. Regardless of this gradual learning curve, it is clear that MLK’s legacy is often reduced to a man who gave speeches, led marches and believed in a dream. Rarely is it mentioned that MLK’s disdain for violence stemmed from the Vietnam War, a fight that he openly condemned. Nowhere in history books is it mentioned that he was an adulterer, that he fought for the rights of sanitation workers and that he advocated for curriculum reform. MLK Jr. Day is hardly intended to be a day off from work or school. Rather it was designed to become a national holiday to commemorate the life and legacy of a man who truly believed in a cause so greatly that he risked his life for it. In 2015, however, given the scenes of protests that have played out across the nation in recent months, this MLK Day means more than it might have than ever before. As protestors continue to pour into the streets to acknowledge the unlawful deaths of unarmed black men and women, it is apparent that King’s message is still relevant today.
There are myriad of parallels that can be made between the Civil Rights Movement during the mid-20th century and today’s movement against police brutality. The most notable difference is that during the 1960s, activists were fighting for concrete and visible results: putting a legal end to segregation, achieving voting rights for African-Americans and the reversal of Jim Crow laws. In that sense, today’s movement against racism and police brutality is dealing with the aftermath of 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Racism isn’t always tangible. So while it is true that laws have changed, mentalities have not. Laws and regulations cannot stop individuals from hating one another, and nothing can regulate personal bias, thus making it easier than ever for social interactions to revert to an archaic disposition that was once commonplace only 50 years ago.
As of late, there is not one person leading the charge against police brutality, a modern-day MLK-like figure has yet to emerge. But there are those such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice who exemplify the necessity of the movement. The deaths of these individuals — and the many more who have come before and after them — prove the staying power of this modern day revolution. The protests seen throughout the streets of major cities and on college campuses emulate the spirit of the 1960s. Similarly, with a 21st-century spin, action on the highways of social media has not waned as individuals retweet, re-blog and repeatedly post about continued injustice each day.
MLK showed everyone that achieving change is not about being an angel who believes in a singular cause. But as a man with many flaws, someone who was multifaceted and believed in the power of human action, MLK was a living, breathing example that believing in a cause and fighting for it at all costs, without giving up in the face of hatred, can bring about meaningful change. Even though today’s protestors and activists are not fighting for something as visible as voting laws, their effects can still be felt. Yesterday on the 29th MLK Day, MTV broadcast all programs in black and white to spark a conversation on race. Creating an open discourse on racism may be one of the most concrete ways to combat related injustices. Those who believe in the cause are called to action and together, collective power will make a difference.