I write his name on one simple line, residing by itself and without any other distractions for a reason.
I want everyone to feel the impact of what this man has done for our country. I want everyone to feel the impact of what still needs to be done for our country. I want everyone to realize that we are responsible for continuing MLK’s legacy and continuing his fight, because it is all-too-clearly not yet over.
While I’m not here to preach, I do fear our lack of education, knowledge and understanding of MLK’s triumphs, tribulations and effective activism. Sure, I am very confident that we all are able to connect MLK with the Civil Rights Movement. I am also very confident that a large majority of individuals within the United States sat at home on Monday, Jan. 19 reveling in excitement because a national holiday was currently taking place (a.k.a. no school).
Now many of us can probably pinpoint the exact day this was, simply because it served as a day off of school for the uncountable children and adults enrolled in classes, whether it be college or elementary.
“A day on, not a day off,” a tweet read as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed on that busy Monday.
Back in the day I would have chuckled. Yeah, I was one of those kids who enjoyed national holidays for the free days off school instead of realizing the importance and significance behind the events and people that we were supposed to be reflecting upon. To be honest, I was still that kid during my freshman year of college (and a portion of my sophomore year). That’s how I know some of you are like that, too.
But not this time. Those few words in that short little tweet hit me extremely hard, and made me really begin to reflect upon their meaning.
I was lucky this year, as I was able to intern for our school’s MLK Day of Service committee. So, I had a much better idea of what exactly this “day on” entailed. However, as I sat there and let those words soak in, I realized that many others probably didn’t understand their meaning and were more than likely chuckling at the other end of their phone while reading posts with the exact same catchphrase.
You may now be asking (you better be asking!) and wondering, “So, what is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day all about, then?”
My terribly brief explanation goes a little something like this:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day falls on the third Monday of January every year. This day not only celebrates all that MLK did for Americans and humans as a whole, but also serves as a time to give back to one’s own community to honor King’s legacy, dedication and countless contributions.
At Ohio University, I was lucky enough to be awarded with the opportunity to serve as a project leader intern for MLK Day of Service, and I was also given the chance to attend different events throughout the week that truly celebrated MLK’s legacy.
Instead of sticking to just one day, we celebrated MLK throughout the week with a silent march, an MLK Jr. celebratory brunch, an open mic night featuring social justice-themed creative arts as activism, a social justice lecture on mass imprisonment, an open discussion on racism and injustice and, finally, our day of service.
Our MLK Day of Service was shifted from Monday, Jan. 19 to Saturday, Jan. 24 so that more students and community members would be able to attend and participate. This day consisted of various volunteer opportunities for anyone willing to dedicate their time in the name of MLK while serving the Athens community.
Our service projects included assisting the following organizations: United Campus Ministry, The Gathering Place, Community Food Initiatives, the Multicultural Genealogical Center and ReUse Industries (with our school supply drive).
I was able to lead a group of students to visit with leaders of the Multicultural Genealogical Center of Chesterhill, Ohio. Unfortunately, due to the weather, we were unable to drive all the way out to Chesterhill to see the actual Center. Fortunately, we were all able to meet up at the Athens Public Library to discuss the Genealogical Center and MLK, assist with stamping, taping and sealing hundreds of letters for the Center, and hear firsthand accounts of diverse experiences during the Civil Rights Movement.
This experience positively influenced me in a multitude of ways, not only because I was able to hear these AMAZING first-hand stories about the Civil Rights Movement while helping a wonderful non-profit organization, but also because I was able to gain all new insight on being a leader to a group of my peers – instigating conversation, asking questions, directing the group, and making them deeply reflect and ponder over this learning experience.
This week of events inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day served to be extremely rewarding, inspiring, emotional, thought provoking and educational. I feel so grateful to have been able to take part in such a brilliant week of celebration, remembrance, and continuance of MLK’s legacy, all while continuing the fight and battle for equality and justice for all – not just for African-Americans, but all races, all sexualities, all disabilities, and all genders.
On Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, I encourage and challenge all of you to really begin looking at this day as a day on. Think of all that MLK and those involved in the Civil Rights Movement did for us, and what you can do to further this goal, this dream, these many aspirations for justice and equality. Remember, it truly is not a day off, but rather a day on to continue such an important and impactful dream, lend out a well-needed, helping hand to your community, and contribute to the bettering of our world as a whole - one by one, hand in hand.