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Happy Birthday Dr. King

by Stephanie Casher on January 15, 2007


If he were still alive, Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 78 years old today.

Unlike the members of my parent’s generation, I did not live through ‘Separate but Equal’ era. I have to admit, in the predominantly-white middle class California suburb I grew up in, everything seemed pretty equal, all things considered. I don’t think I had a true grasp of what race relations in this country had been like until I got to college. But there, during courses like “The Civil Rights Movement” and “The African-American Experience,” I was able to catch my first unsanitized glimpse of our nation’s ugly history. It wasn’t all about independence from England and providing a safe harbor for immigrants and other victims of persecution, as High School textbooks would have us believe. The term “land of the free” was only true for some. For others, it was a demoralizing life of second-class citizenship.

I’ll never forget the pride and horror I felt watching documentaries on the 1960’s such as Eyes on the Prize. My generation is so out of touch with it’s history; we take so much for granted. People gave their lives so I could vote, own a home, go to college. I am eternally indebted to people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for everything I have come to achieve in my life thus far. I owe it to those who died for my freedoms to make sure my life means something…

(Click here to watch historic footage of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech on YouTube.)

It saddens me that there don’t seem to be any contemporary leaders with the spirit and vision of Dr. King. Or perhaps we, as a society, have become so selfish, compartmentalized, and complacent that we are too lazy to be mobilized en masse. Middle class apathy is as deadly as any disease people.

Lately I’ve been on a spiritual kick, reading Deepak Chopra, Pema Chodron, and Thich Nhat Hanh. Like these international peace activists, Dr. King stands out in history because of his commitment to using nonviolent methods to achieve social change. Choosing to love in the face of hate and shower forgiveness upon your enemies is not something that comes easily for most of us. Locating acts of true compassion these days is rare, but we all have the capacity to lend our energy towards positive change. Most of us just need a little guidance…

Today, in reflecting on the legacy Martin Luther King Jr. left us, I stand solid in my commitment to be a proponent of peace and love, and resist the urge to harbor, broadcast, or reproduce negativity. I also pledge to cultivate more compassion as I go about my business in this cold and sometimes cruel world. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Thank you Dr. King, for continuing to be an inspiration almost 20 years after your passing.

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