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The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls us to action. A prophet, a teacher, a preacher and leader, he helped move our world in the direction of fairness and equality. He lived in a time when the south was wrought with hate and prejudice and yet he stood up once and again for the sake of peace and unity.

He was at the center of a movement predicated on driving America to a place of broader compassion and understanding. Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her bus seat on a cold day in Alabama in December of 1955. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, a loud form of peaceful protest, helped change the law of the land and began to peel away the layers of segregation that existed at the time. About Parks’ act of bravery, Dr King wrote: “Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.’”

Dr King was instrumental in so many of the key events that marked the Civil Rights Movement. At times he led. At times he supported. He wrote and spoke. His books and articles, including “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” remain must-read material for anyone who hopes to understand the plight of the African American in this country.

The events of Bloody Sunday in March of 1965, when a horrified nation looked on as would-be marchers were beaten back, was another spark in a movement that came to define Dr King’s life. Hundreds had gathered to march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery in an effort to procure full voting rights. When they attempted a second march, they were intimidated into turning back. Finally, when Governor Wallace refused to protect the marchers with state troopers, President Johnson stepped in and ordered the national guard to offer the thousands gathered (now for a third time) safe passage to Montgomery.

The Voting Rights Act, drafted in offices of the Reform movement, ultimately became law in August of 1965.

I cannot tell you how moving it was to stand on the bridge where the march started or to see the Atlanta home in which Dr King grew up. I cannot tell you how much it meant to me to visit Ebeneezer Baptist Church, where Dr King and his father served as pastor. Touching these places and seeing them with my own eyes alongside KI families this past fall was truly transformative for all of us.

I find great inspiration in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. I hope that you do too. He shows us that one person is capable of enacting profound change. He reminds us that we can indeed make a difference: in lessening hate, promoting tolerance, bringing people together, understanding those whose story is different than our own, building diverse communities and so much more. His life embodies the quote from Pirkei Avot: “It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

This weekend we will honor Dr King’s remarkable life. We will learn, pray, and join together to mend our world. In the process, we will work together to bring his vision closer to reality.