EDITORIAL: Remember MLK for his message, not the holiday

Editorial Board

The nation observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, although we’re not sure very many of us actually were aware it was happening, except for the fact that we had a day off from school.

It’s unfortunate, though, because it commemorates, celebrates and challenges us to remember the life and cause of Dr. King.

Recently, a lot of articles have been written and conversations had, that question whether President Obama’s inauguration, a presidency that will celebrates its 1-year anniversary in the Oval office on Thursday, signifies the end of the era of Americans’ pursuit for civil liberties and social justice.

We hope you’re of the mind that it didn’t.

We hope that, at this point in our nation’s history, King’s life and work have taken on a deeper and broader meaning: that every citizen — not just a privileged majority — have the freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And we don’t believe we’re alone in seeing the holiday as a commemoration of civil liberties and social justice for every American, rather than for those of African-American descent only. The holiday should commemorate the trials and triumphs of every race, ability, sexual identity, belief and ideal, along with their right to be shared, heard and challenged.

There’s no doubt that our nation has progressed. Identities were changed, outlooks alterred, and lives were improved. That’s not to say, however, that we’re “done.”

We believe that much of the work that has yet to be completed will be accomplished in hearts and minds of American citizens, rather than through further legislation and policy changes.

Holes and weaknesses in policies deserve to be addressed, and when and where you become aware of them, we hope you’ll speak up.

However, we also feel sure that a majority of the work that is left to be done will involve explaining to your employers and employees, neighbors, local leaders, family members and friends that you can’t let inequality pass by unnoticed. Nor will you tolerate it to thrive in the minds of those around you or to permeate the culture of your classrooms, dormitories, apartments, houses or workplaces unchallenged.

It shouldn’t take marches and rallies on Capitol Hill or a bunch of black men standing up to firefighters wielding fire hoses to convince someone to treat another with the respect they deserve, simply for being a member of the human race.

It falls to each of us, though, to keep stereotypes and prejudices from persevering — to standing up to others when suggestive remarks or double entendres are made about someone they see as “other,” because, until we do, nothing will change, and the oppressed will either suffer in silence or risk everything to stand up for what matters most in life: freedom.