This is a guest editorial column written in celebration of the 2006 King Day in Indiana by A.B. Assensoh and Yvette Alex-Assensoh, Professors of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and Political Science at Indiana University-Bloomington. It was published in "Herald-Times" newspaper of Bloomington on Monday, January 16, 2006. The Assensohs -- co-authors of St. Martin's Press-published book, "African Military History and Politics, 1900-Present" -- respectively served the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project of Stanford University in senior editorial and internship capacities in the 1980s.
The local news media have reported that events for the King Day celebrations were taking shape. Nationally, the theme for the observance of Dr. King's 77th birthday as a holiday is "A Day On! Not a Day Off!" With those words, the National King Holiday Commission were re-echoing a desire that, in their opinion, Dr. King would have approved, if he had been alive: that his holiday on the second Monday in January of each year should be a day that is added "on" to other working days but not a day off!
Very wisely, Indiana University has added its own theme to the national one: "The Power of One." Also, by that sub-theme, the flagship state institution is also underscoring that, in our lives, individuals can and should make a difference. In deed, IU Vice-President Charlie Nelms said it best, when he was quoted as underscoring that "Furthering the [King] dream is an individual responsibility."
In retrospect, the late President Ronald Reagan made a difference in furthering the dream on November 2, 1983, when in a Rose Garden ceremony he signed a congressional bill to make Dr. King's January 15th birth-date the tenth federal holiday. On the historical and political oasis, the idea for the honor began on April 8, 1968 -- barely four days after his April 4th assassination -- when Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Jr., introduced his bill in the House of Representatives to make Dr. King's birth-date such a holiday. In all of these instances, individual citizens made a difference.
As America celebrates Dr. King's 77th birthday, it is important for each and everyone, as Dr. Nelms logically concluded, to re-examine themselves to see what they, either as individuals or as a group, can do to further Dr. King's dream. In that instance, the age-long dream can be kept alive and focused on the very principles and ideals for which Dr. King was martyred.
For example, in Dr. King's words, injustice anywhere, for example, is a threat to justice everywhere. Does society remember and continue to believe in that? Also, Dr. King gave the "I have a Dream" speech to serve as a reminder of all that he stood for, re-echoing the sentiments that one day, as he wished, his four little children would be judged by the content of their character but not by the color of their skin!
Dr. King likened racial bigotry and discrimination to a bounced check in the June 28, 1963 historic "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Dr. King. Therefore, he felt that, by the way his fellow Blacks were being mistreated racially, American society had, in effect, given the black populace a back check or promissory note. With his belief in nonviolence and love for his fellow human being, Dr. King in the same year (on Sept. 2, 1963) published his book, "Strength to Love (Harper & Row, 1963). America has indeed come a long way from its blatant instances of racial discrimination, the subtle and more invidious forms of racial inequality persists and dare to thrive. That is why individuals can continue to play important roles in the current day battle to ensure that equality and fair play is accessible to all Americans. This is especially so in the field of education where we must make sure that no children are written off as uneducatable. After all, we may be discarding the next Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks, who acted as individuals to bring about a mighty force for change.
Despite the size of the challenge, Dr. King's legacy reminds us that individuals can always act as a positive force for societal change. One lone black woman in Mississippi used savings earned as a domestic to endow scholarships for underrepresented minorities at the state's flagship university. Then, when the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck, Americans in their own individual capacities
Even today, individuals acting for good can still be a powerful force to help mankind.
Indeed, Dr. King had the further belief that racial minorities had waited too long for freedom and justice to be attained in the context of civil rights for all. That was why on June 1, 1964, he had his thoughts published in the book, "Why We Can't Wait". In the same year (on December 10th) in Oslo, Norway, he King was honored as a crusader without violence with the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, a year before he was killed, he still felt that his beloved America was far away from the freedom and justice that he had toiled for since the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott (thanks to Mrs. Rosa Park of blessed memory). Therefore, he penned his memorable January 1967 book, "Where Do We Go From Here?".
Above all, as an individual, Dr. King made a difference in the context of "the Power of One." What about all of us? We must, therefore, further the realization of the dream by making a difference whereby Dr. King's dream is concerned!