By A. L. Smith, Contributing Writer
Many of us recognize that many of today’s young activists, economic and social justice advocates as well as new leadership change-makers weren’t around fifty-four years ago this week (April 4, 1968-2022), when one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, religious/civil-rights leaders, and social justice advocates, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically and violently killed at age 39 by an assassin’s bullet as he stood on the balcony of the former Lorraine Motel (now the National Civil Rights Museum) in Memphis, Tennessee.
His crime? This brave man of God was assuredly preparing to express U.S. Constitution-protected free speech, lead the strategically important fight for fair wages and improved, safer working conditions for striking Black sanitation workers.
Across the U.S. and the world today – – movement survivors, celebrities, everyday people, and multi-generational activists will post social-media remembrances, host virtual online events, give speeches and engage school children to mark this sad anniversary and honor this brave, oratorically gifted warrior’s ultimate sacrifice: giving his life to promote racial equality and positive social change for millions of people he did not personally know, and would never meet.
Dr. King’s special history related to fighting with local progressive, committed clergy, civil-rights organizations, leaders, and everyday supporters for economic parity and open housing on the west and south sides of this city during the 1960’s ‘Chicago Freedom Movement’ further deserves our expanded research, knowledge, and respect.
I remember growing up on Chicago’s south side, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. was a well-known, greatly admired, beloved icon to many (but admittedly not all) neighborhood residents, communities and in my family. His powerful voice, illuminating spiritual messages, and work against inequality when he preached and organized at our historic Bronzeville religious organization, Liberty Baptist Church of Chicago – gave me a positive role-model at an incredibly early age and helped shape my worldview philosophy, and continues to inform my civic engagements to this very day.
Further – it must be noted that strong, and vibrant Black Press outlets like this very Chicago Crusader newspaper reported on and staunchly supported Dr. King’s visionary efforts. Years earlier, his historic ‘March on Washington’ I Have a Dream speech inspired millions of youthful advocates to advance their commitment to pursue a life in public and community service. That’s an ultimate change agent.
As the nation, and we here in Chicago stop to remember, celebrate, and honor the inspired life, work and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, maybe we can all ask ourselves, “what am I doing to help keep alive Dr. King’s dream?” Already active? Great! Keep up the excellent work.
While we’ll never be Dr. King, but we can in some small way – – honor his legacy by vowing to do our part to create positive social, educational, and economic change in our community!
There’s more than enough to be done. Even small sacrifices can produce a significant impact. Some ideas: What about starting a block club or attending existing group meetings? Maybe you prefer feeding the homeless, creating community gardens or hosting youth-oriented events. Consider attending virtual or in-person meetings (as COVID-19 mitigations are being cautiously lifted) and/or volunteering at your local Aldermanic office to stay informed. Or become a CAPS beat facilitator to help keep our neighborhoods safe.
Organizing forums on women’s health issues and seminars on domestic assault and abuse; collecting clothing and necessities for homeless and children’s shelters; and checking up on, and ministering to elderly family members, friends and neighbors are a few other options. The bottom line? In Dr. King’s memory and more important, for current and future generations – – just get started.
Over the decades since his unfortunate demise, cities, and organizations across the United States and across the globe have honored him by re-naming streets, parks buildings, medical centers, schools after Dr. King. King’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1983, and by 2000, all 50 states made it a state government holiday. While Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, the King holiday is marked every year on the third Monday in January.
Therefore, today more than ever, all of us should take a minute to reflect, honor, study and learn from this phenomenal humanitarian, progressive scholar, the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Baptist Minister as well as one of the most prominent, internationally acclaimed faces and key strategists of the 1960’s civil rights movement.
Why? Because many of the issues he fought against – – we once again face today, and it’s not a sin to study our history as we strategize together for a better future. And also, because Dr. King’s entire, all-too-short life of successful progressive action was spent unselfishly helping others and changing the world. That too deserves our committed action and respect.