By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
This month will mark the 85th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Across the nation and throughout the world community, millions of people will pay tribute and celebrate the birth of one our greatest freedom fighters and most effective leaders. The legacy of Dr. King is more than a federal holiday although we should never forget the protracted but successful struggle that was required to get that holiday recognition signed into law.
The legacy of Dr. King is more than a tall magnificent statue that now stands on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. King’s legacy is also more than a faint remembrance of the past sacrifices and victories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The living legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. should be a legacy of present-day continuing the good fight for freedom, justice, equality and economic empowerment in America, Africa and everywhere in the world. Yes, today that is a big order and a tremendous challenge.
As a young, statewide youth organizer from 1963 to 1968 for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in my home state of North Carolina, I witnessed first hand the incredible genius and courage of Dr. King. I also remember his militant band of preachers, community organizers and student leaders who had become impatient with the status quo of systematic racial injustice in the United States. Golden Frinks, the N.C. state field secretary of SCLC recruited and introduced me to Dr. King and SCLC. Working with Dr. King changed my life for the better.
Today, my purpose is simply to apply what I believe is the living legacy of Dr. King to some of the most pressing issues that oppressed people face nationally and internationally. Remember when Dr. King spoke out against the atrocities of the Vietnam War in 1967, there were many in the African American community who could not readily make the connection that saw between the issues of racial and economic oppression in the United States and the issues of war and peace in southeast Asia. One of Dr. King’s famous quotes was, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It was only after Dr. King’s tragic assassination in 1968 that many shared his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Martin Luther King Jr. would not have supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, there should be much louder voices now concerning the post-colonial devastating wars and violence in the Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, and in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where millions have died. There is just too much public silence about these and other global violent conflicts. Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence was non-negotiable.
Africans and African Americans as well as all people must strive to settle differences and disputes without engaging in self-destructive violence. This in part is what I mean when I use the phrase “living legacy” of Martin Luther King. Gun violence is down somewhat now in Chicago, but it is still too high. Gun violence is rising in Detroit, Washington, D.C. and in Philadelphia. SCLC, NAACP, National Urban League, National Rainbow Coalition, and the National Action Network should take on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its policies to proliferate gun sales in America.
Support of universal health care and the Affordable Care Act should be viewed as a fundamental aspect of the living legacy of King. We are most affected by the absence of health care delivery to our families and communities. Yet, in too many of our communities there still appears to a slow response to the Affordable Care Act.
Dr. King new the importance of education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). King’s legacy demands more financial support for all HBCUs. We must also meet the challenge of curbing drop-out rates and the failures of the secondary school systems of education with respect to our communities.
Lastly, Martin Luther King’s concept of “the Beloved Community” involved economic equality and development as a means of eliminating poverty. We should be encouraging the rise and training of a new young generation of entrepreneurs. If we want more jobs, then we have to have more businesses and employers who emerge from the communities that live in and serve.
Yes, the National Holiday for Dr. King is about remembrance and celebration. But it should also be about living the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. everywhere people are crying out for a better life through freedom, justice and equality and economic empowerment.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is president of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at: