This week, I, like many others, had Monday off of school due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I could not recall running any stories about Dr. King since I’ve been at The Times Bulletin. So, I reached out to friends and teachers who work at local schools, asking if any schools were doing anything in honor of Dr. King. To my surprise, I was told “no” over and over again. “No one is doing anything leading up to MLK Day!?” I thought to myself. I was surprised.

While Fort Wayne has an entire community event honoring Dr. King, I couldn’t find a single organization or school celebrating him in any way locally. I’m sure (I hope) schools at least teach about him and the Civil Rights Movement.

Because schools got the day off, I began to wonder if kids really understood what Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was about and why he had a day in his honor – if you’ve read the history story in today’s paper, you can probably guess what I did with that curiosity; I wrote. But I also further contemplated what the day means.

After asking a few people in my life about MLK Day, I learned that most people aren’t thinking about Dr. King’s life or legacy or even what he did. Judging by the comments on the internet, some do not even believe he deserves a day at all.

For me, King is a symbol of what people can do if they put their words into action. He held protests, demonstrations, marches, and vigils. Over the course of his activism, he was arrested around 29 times for his civil disobedience. He was even arrested for clear acts of targeting when he was detained for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone in 1956.

Dr. King stood up for people who rarely had a voice fighting for them. He fought against segregation and led the famous Montgomery bus boycotts where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger and was arrested. He fought against racial inequality and used non-violent methods to do so.

Of course, we couldn’t mention Dr. King without talking about his “I Have A Dream Speech” during a March on Washington in 1963.

“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.”

Though I wasn’t alive, when I read this speech, especially the section above, or when I hear it, my eyes swell, knowing that this speech was delivered in a not-so-long-ago American past – knowing that the ugly face of racism still shows itself today and that Dr. King fought so hard against it. We’ve come a long way, but we still have far to go.

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He arrived in Memphis days earlier to support black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike for higher wages and better treatment. He delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech just a day before his death. He addressed a bomb threat and the thought of death:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

King was murdered near his hotel room by James Earl Ray. Just four days later, members of Congress were already working on a federal holiday to honor Dr. King for his work.

Because of Dr. King and people like him, segregation saw its end, and while America is not perfect, we are better than we were. That’s Dr. King’s legacy – to continue to be better, to treat others as we want to be treated, and to stand up for your fellow man. Yes, we’ve come a long way since Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but yes, we still have a long way to go.