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Ninety-three years after his birth and 58 years after his historic, “I have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King’s advocacy, teachings and writings remain as relevant and inspiring today as they were when he was alive.
When I think of my brother, Dr. King, I am reminded of how much this brilliant and courageous man accomplished in such a short time on this earth. A child prodigy, he entered Morehouse College at 15 years old and graduated at 19 year old.
Afterwards, he earned his second degree at the age of 22 from Crozier Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania. In 1952, Dr. King was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. while in school seeking his doctorate degree. He was awarded his Ph.D. in 1955 from Boston University at the age of 26.
At Alpha Phi Alpha’s 50th Anniversary, in 1956, Dr. King was awarded the Alpha Award of Merit, the Fraternity’s highest honor. From Montgomery to Birmingham, to Selma, to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King led strategic, non-violent protests that changed the world.
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Injustice is a threat to justice
He received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and a memorial on the National Mall in death. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the King Holiday Bill which made Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed congressional legislation authorizing the King memorial in Washington, D.C.
Dr. King responded to racism and oppression in his letter from the Birmingham, on April 16, 1963, Jail proclaiming, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!"
As an activist Dr. King argued on legal, political, and historical grounds—challenging an entrenched social system. Dr. King was a skilled orator who used many persuasive techniques to reach the hearts and minds of his audience.
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Even though the right to vote is now a constitutional right, we are still fighting some of the same battles that Dr. King once fought today. Advocating against a war against voter suppression, redistricting and gerrymandering used to strategically eliminate and water down the votes of people of color.
Dr. King’s inspiration motivates us today. He said, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
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The fight continues to make King's dream a reality
As Dr. King said in his "I Have a Dream" speech: “We have some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
We are still fighting the same fight to make Dr. King’s dream a reality more than 50 years after his death. We must be proactive, not reactive.
Dr. King’s spirit reminds us now, as it did then, that his legacy lives on; that we are each guardians of the work Dr. King lived for and the reality he dreamed of.
We are duty-bound to remember what was lost when he was assassinated in 1968 at the age of thirty-nine.
Take time not only on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but everyday to reflect upon Dr. King’s life, work, advocacy and legacy.
We must all honor Dr. King by speaking truth to power!
Ronald Small is president of the Tau Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the chairman of the 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee. He is an assistant federal public defender in Nashville.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Why we must uphold Dr. King's legacy every day, not just on MLK Day