“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Though it’s been nearly 52 years since an assassin’s bullet silenced Martin Luther King Jr., his words and legacy continue to offer us guidance. The challenge for us is to heed his wisdom.
King was born Jan. 15, 1929. Today, the third Monday of January, we commemorate what would have been King’s 91st birthday with a national holiday. It’s a time when many will take on community service projects, engage in calls for improved race relations and attend special church services to lift up prayers for a better world.
It may be unlike any other holiday during the year.
That’s likely what President Ronald Reagan had in mind in 1983 when he declared the third Monday of January Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday was first observed three years later, though it wasn’t until 2000, when South Carolina joined in, that it was observed in all 50 states.
“Each year on Martin Luther King Day,” Reagan said at the bill signing, “let us not only recall Dr, King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. And I just have to believe that all of us — if all of us, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, do all we can to live up to those Commandments, then we will see the day when Dr. King’s dream comes true ...”
Reagan’s words spoke specifically that day to King’s fight to improve race relations and equality. The strides made since the early 1960s in civil liberties for minorities have been significant — though, decades later, we still have work to do. This message should be a central part to today’s special events and remembrances.
Reagan also said King “symbolized what was right about America, what was noblest and best, what human beings have pursued since the beginning of history. He loved unconditionally. He was in constant pursuit of truth, and when he discovered it, he embraced it.”
King often spoke about the need to work together to solve our country’s problems. That’s what he meant in his aforementioned about being in the same boat. As we look at a nation that’s often divided over immigration, impeachment and intolerance, King’s message resonates in its call to be even better toward each other.
So it’s fitting that this holiday is more than just a day off from work (for some). Most celebrations surrounding King’s day are in forms of service projects. Across the country, people will mark the holiday by cleaning up communities, helping the homeless, or doing home repairs for the elderly. In one service project here in Frederick, for instance, several groups will be volunteering their time to create hats for critically ill children.
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” King once said.
If we’re able to embrace any of King’s multitude of timeless advice, it’s that our best times as a society come when we’re able to work together to find solutions.
Amen to that.