Mitchel Nickols: King legacy makes difference today
When a person is born, we don’t know what impact their birth will make on the lives of others. When Martin Luther King Jr. was born, it would take a number of years to see and hear the things that would transform the lives of so many who had been struggling and in need of change through the civil rights movement.
Born the middle child to Rev. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr., Jan. 15, 1929, Martin came along during a time in American history when things were difficult for many, both racially and economically. Living in Atlanta, he understood segregation. The country was on the brink of the Great Depression.
Martin understood the importance of education; he graduated with a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1955.
As in the earlier part of the 20th century, black people in the 1950s were being lynched for being in the wrong places, saying or doing the wrong things, or falsely accused and disenfranchised just because of the color of their skin.
To capture the essence of the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., listen to a few of his historic speeches: “I Have A Dream,” Washington, D.C., April 28, 1963; “Our God is Marching On,” Selma, Ala., March 25, 1965; and “The Other America,” Stanford University, April 14, 1967.
In that last speech, King highlighted the growing gap in poverty as rooted in inequality.
“Dr. King focused on ending educational inequality and segregated schools,” notes Liney Glenn, retired New Kensington-Arnold teacher and current Alle-Kiski Valley NAACP president. “To keep Dr. King’s dream alive, schools and communities should continue his work and strive to have diversity and inclusion in the schools and throughout the community.”
Perhaps this was what King had in mind when he gave his last speech April 3, 1968, just days before his assassination in Memphis, Tenn.: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. … 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,” King said.
After many years of campaigning by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, members of Congress and other activists, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. It has been observed on the third Monday in January since 1986; King’s birthday is Jan. 15.
King has become one of the most noted black Americans — and Americans — in U.S. history, with streets, highways, schools, buildings and monuments named in his honor.
But there is so much more to be known about the contributions of so many often-rebuffed people of color to the building of the American dream. That’s a conversation that schools and community leaders should continue today and a reminder of a past so dark that we should never revisit it again.
Mitchel Nickols, Ph.D., of Lower Burrell, is an instructor in the leadership and administration and community engagement programs at Point Park University. He is a diversity and sensitivity trainer and consultant for police departments and school districts throughout Western Pennsylvania.