Monday, January 18 is the day to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King. Dr. King is recognized all over the world for his contribution to racial equality through the civil rights movement in the United States. He was a strong proponent of non-violent resistance as a means of ending racial segregation.
January 15, 1929, is the actual day of his birth but the third Monday of January is the day chosen to recognize his accomplishments as a preacher, a Nobel Peace prize winner, and a human rights activist for racial justice.
In this tense time of unrest, pandemic, and uncertainty, this is a day to reflect on his accomplishments by use of non-violent civil disobedience.
Martin Luther King Day (also known as MLK Day) is a national holiday in the United States. In Canada, the day gets passing attention, at best. Toronto and Ottawa recognize the day but it is not a statutory holiday. Nonetheless, given the momentum of Black Lives Matter in Canada, we can use this day to pay attention to systemic racism in our country and everywhere.
Police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement are not restricted to US jurisdictions. Racial equality remains elusive for many black, brown, and indigenous people in Canada who face subtle and overt racism. Daily, they find themselves looking over their shoulders to ensure that they are treated fairly and valued as individuals.
How to Celebrate Martin Luther King Day
Typically, people gather in groups for MLK celebrations. They march to bring attention to racial inequality, participate in non-violent forms of activism, and volunteer in civic action groups.
In years past, my husband and I attended an annual MLK party at a friend’s house. The party was held on the Sunday before MLK Day. Several people who attended were American ex-pats who had worked in the civil rights movement. Some had participated in marches or demonstrations during the 60s. They shared interesting memories of such events. Everybody brought food and drink. A television streamed excerpts of Dr. King’s speeches.
There is no MLK party during the pandemic. There is, however much-unfinished business as racialized people continue to face discrimination and suffer inequality.
During the pandemic, we can attend virtual celebrations. The National Civil Rights Museum provides a virtual stream commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. King at 12 noon and 6 pm. Registration for participation is available at https://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/king-day.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music hosts an annual musical event with many outstanding performers for which you can register at https://www.bam.org/mlktribute
Countless books, documentaries and movies celebrating the life and work of Dr. King are available on streaming services and YouTube. If nothing else, it’s worthwhile spending two minutes to watch an excerpt from his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR-PReWhMGM
2020 Wake-up Call
The brutal deaths of George Floyd and Brionna Taylor were a wake-up call for many. The actions leading to their deaths have forced me to examine the invisible privileges I enjoy as a middle-class Caucasian woman. As I consider the unconscious attitudes that I hold because of enduring cultural biases, I realize there is much to learn before I truly call myself an ally or an anti-racist.
The wake-up call makes me uneasy. The truth of Martin Luther King’s message is complicated and forces me to look at all the underlying assumptions that have shaped me. I don’t have the lived experience of systemic racism although I have observed its effects.
But, with appropriate humility, I can show up. I can speak up. I can stand with others. I can do what is uncomfortable. I can recognize that the work of Dr. King is unfinished. I can celebrate his life while understanding that he made the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs.
As I change my worldview and examine the advantages of being white, I can also seek to understand the long-term effects of slavery and discriminatory practices in public policies that govern criminal justice and education. For my grandchildren, I can do my part to leave the world in a place where everyone is respected for who they are.
Thanks for reading my post. It’s a big deal to have a holiday that celebrates the accomplishments of a visionary black leader. I hope you will find a way to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King on Monday, January 18, 2021.