January 17, 2011

Today We Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1980, Stevie Wonder released Hotter than July, arguably his best album ever, and in it, his first platinum-selling single - "Happy Birthday."  The single, "Happy Birthday," a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, became the catalyst for Stevie Wonder's nationwide campaign for a national holiday commemorating the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King.  But more than commemorating King's life, the holiday would commemorate and historicize an American movement - a human rights movement that would forever change the fabric of American culture.

In 1980, I was a girl of just ten years old, yet I was so deeply moved and immutably changed by this nationwide movement.  In retrospect, my school - Castle Heights Elementary in Culver City, CA - was extremely progressive for its time.  The school administration and faculty was a part of the movement, so that even before 1986 (the year that President Reagan finally signed the holiday into law), my school was already dedicating January 17th to a school-wide celebration and commemoration of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.  Our Social Studies classes became discussions and lessons about King, the American Civil Rights movement, and comparative studies of Mohandas Gandhi and his movement to end Imperialism in India. I was a student of the philosophy of civil disobedience, and at ten years old, I became radicalized.

I was chosen that first year, 1980, to recite the "I Have a Dream" speech at the school-wide assembly for parents, faculty, and students.  As I invoked King, I felt so honored and so empowered.  I remembered thinking that no greater human being ever lived than he, and that I must have lived in the greatest country in the world - a country that would acknowledge the error of its dark past and usher in the light of freedom, justice, and equality.  I was proud to be Black, and I was proud to be an American.

Today, we must all pause and remember what this day truly means for all Americans, lest we sink into the mire of complacency and amnesia.  The King holiday is not simply an African American holiday.  King's Dream is the American Dream.  And thanks to King and the Movement, all Americans have access to the Dream.