MLK Day shows the power of a dream

Published 4:42 pm Monday, January 15, 2024

On Monday, January 15, our nation observed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in honor of and to celebrate the civil rights leader’s life and legacy. MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage Americans to improve their communities and seek ways to strengthen, educate, advocate and work towards equity, dignity and justice for all people. The power of his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech resonates as forcefully today as when he first delivered it in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Dr. Kings’ birthdate is January 15th, however, due to legislation named the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which was passed in 1968, and enacted in 1971, directed that certain holidays take place on Mondays, we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday on the third Monday in January. His birthday became a federal holiday in 1983, and by 2000 it was fully observed in all 50 states. Since then, the MLK Jr. Day of Service has grown and become truly significant as more and more Americans embrace the idea that citizenship involves taking active roles in improving and strengthen community bonds across racial and economic lines. These efforts mirror and align the effort to create Dr. King’s vision where he believed communities across America could create more equitable opportunities for all people. And, that the Beloved Community would seek ways to build on the vision that social justice and equity with dignity could ensue that all people would have rights that gave justice for all, not just one group of oppressed people. Dr. King believed the Beloved Community was possible and was part of the dream he envisioned.

Dr. King often spoke of the Beloved Community during his lifetime of activism and fueled his beliefs with hope and faith that such a community was possible. The term ‘Beloved Community’ was first used by theologian Josiah Rice in the early 1900’s, when he voiced the idea that people have the power and potential to achieve unity across many divides. Dr. King also respected the Hebrew teaching called ‘Tikkun Olam’ which simply put, is that we could learn from Jewish people ‘that we are called on to make the world more just, peaceful, tolerant and equal through acts of charity, kindness and political action. Dr. King as he was a powerful voice against racism and civil rights in our country, was also an important ally in the fight against antisemitism and had a close bond with the Jewish community. His ‘I Have A Dream Speech’ embodies so many wonderful ideals that are the hallmark of the Beloved Community.

On the MLK Jr, holiday, we are encouraged to find a place to volunteer and strengthen our communities. Washington/Beaufort County has many organizations that need your help. They are too numerous to mention, but a quick Google search will afford you many places that need your time, kindness and monetary donations.
To celebrate Dr. King’s birthday on Monday in honoring his legacy of improving and strengthening our communities, the Americorps Foundation, a federal agency that brings people together to tackle the country’s most pressing issues, and the Pamlico Rose Organization of Washington NC, whose mission is to advance a community based prevention wellness and resilience building programs, partnered with the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum to enhance landscaping at the museum, and planted trees on the Fourth Street Black History Legacy Park located on the southwest corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. The Legacy Park as well as the Underground Railroad Museum are vital keepers of the history in the Washington area whose mission is to celebrate the unity, diversity, equity, community, the power to overcome adversity and history of a vibrant past and a beacon for the future. These are the very ideals of the dream that Dr. King envisioned. That dream is now in the hands of all who will work together to make the dream a reality.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.