Following The Dream: Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Sara Paredes, Copy Editor

On Jan. 14, 2022, the country commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Acknowledged on every third Monday of January, the holiday honors the birthday of civil rights activist and Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. 

King — best known for his contributions to ending racial segregation and his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963 — was the main spokesperson for nonviolent activism throughout the Civil Rights Movement, which protested against racial discrimination seen in federal and state laws. He led historically significant peaceful protests such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, which contributed to landmark laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The federal holiday — passed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Oct. 19, 1983 and observed for the first time on Jan. 20, 1986 — recognizes King’s legacy and acknowledges the work still needed for racial equality. 

“Even though laws were passed and we’ve really progressed, we can never stop [advocating], and we have to continue to push for injustices to end because they’re going to keep continuing as time passes unless we do something about it,” Miami Palmetto Senior High School junior and president of Palmetto’s Amnesty Club Lexi Blackwell said. 

The holiday also remembers King’s legacy by emphasizing serving one’s community, with the Martin Luther King National Day of Service being one of the two official national days of service in the U.S.

“Personally, I like that vision of the Martin Luther King holiday: serving the community and bringing people together because ultimately, that’s what his [“I Have a Dream”] speech was about — bringing people together of all races, genders and faiths, building a community and building the economy of the community, providing equality and equity through service outlets,” Palmetto AP Human Geography and Amnesty Club sponsor Maribel Pizarro said. 

While the majority of public school students are given a day of recess on MLK Day, the holiday has increased significance beyond being just a day off from school.

“Do a random act of kindness that day…Outside of service just through an organization or through your community, provide service to the individuals you encounter. If no other day of the year, at least that day,” Pizarro said. 

King’s vision for the future of the U.S. as a place of equality can also be promoted through advocating for social issues.

“Take initiative on your own. Write to state legislators, sign petitions; small actions can still make a difference,” Blackwell said. 

Moreover, MLK Day serves as a way for Americans to acknowledge the life and legacy of a man who made it his mission to live in a nation where all people can exist as one.

“[MLK Day] is important because when he was alive, he impacted the lives of so many from various backgrounds, and unfortunately, it took his death for many more to see what he was fighting for had value,” Pizarro said. “So by honoring, recognizing and remembering that, we’re remembering the value of that fight of not just him, but of so many others that came before him, and so many others that were with him and so many others that came after him.”