MLK Day: Let us not forget the Heroes.
Whenever someone mentions Martin Luther King, the first thing that comes to my mind is the “I have a Dream” speech of 1963. Oddly enough, the content of the inspirational speech that forever inscribed MLK in stone in the history of America, changing millions of lives, was all drafted hurriedly a couple minutes before he delivered it, serving as a testimony of the creative genius of the charismatic baptist minister. MLK was by far, the most notorious, famous, and arguably the most successful activist of the Civil Rights Movement that happened from 1954 to 1968. Yes, just about half-a-century ago.
But wait a minute, the Civil Rights Movement happened some 50 years ago - well before the invention the internet, so what does it mean for us right now, in today’s society?
Well, the movement culminated in the “Civil Rights Act” of 1964 that banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It basically provided every subgroup of American citizens a guarantee of equal, indiscriminate access to public facilities, education, employment... basically enabled equal opportunity (in theory). Those are fundamental rights, immense social advancements that were acquired through years of protest, sweat, tears, and even blood. Crucial assets that unfortunately a lot of people tend to take for granted.
As a black young man living in America today, I am very fortunate to be able to say that I do not remember ever being subjected to any sort of racism or other types of discrimination. (Now, I see you coming, that may be due in large part to the fact that I lived most of my life in a predominantly black country in sub-Saharan Africa. And I currently spend most of my time in the United States in a sheltered, isolated private school in the New Hampshire, but still). I remain very thankful for being able to sit in a restaurant in New York City, with my friends, regardless of whether or not we happen to be of the same ethnicity. I certainly appreciate being allowed to attend New Hampton School, a well-established boarding school of the Lakes Region.
MLK day serves as a reminder that the values of equality people fought for in the Civil Rights Movement still hold true today. As a high school student, I get to witness the nature of that societal contract every day at lunchtime in the cafeteria, as I see students of various races, religions and socio-economical backgrounds sit together at the same table. Of course, there remains noticeable cultural segregation, but I think this may be expected as humans generally tend to seek belonging and self-identification to a larger group, especially in the transitional period of adolescence in the context of high school. In addition, international students tend to stick together in their language groups, but again this is not due to constitutional bigotry or any unfair school rule, but rather to the necessity of cultural balance that enables the students to integrate more swiftly in a foreign environment. In that sense, the cafeteria is truly a testimony of integration and cultural diversity, where all contribute to the harmony of the school in their own special way.
MLK day also means that heroes are not forgotten. Most people are familiar with Martin Luther King, but few could name even 5 other notable activists of the Civil rights movement. In all honesty, I could not either. Perhaps that is part of the reason why we need an MLK day; it is an opportunity to learn about less famous heroes such as John Lewis, Dorothy Height or Ella Baker, that equally played an important role in the socio-political struggle. (We, Literati are engaged to honor the moral duty of remembrance by creating this year a series of posters and illustrations for MLK day.
Although racism and bigotry subsist today, there is undeniable progress. Events such as Charlottesville 2017 or Ferguson 2014 mean that there is still a long way to go, but on the other hand, let us not forget all the social advancements. Let us not forget same-sex marriage legalization in 2015. And finally let us not forget the Barack Obamas or the Tim Cooks, living examples that opportunity does exist for everyone despite the division in the country.