How exactly are you supposed to celebrate Martin Luther King Day?
Nine years ago, I went to a ratchet, all-night pajama party in a warehouse (For the record, I had a damn good time).
Two years ago, I sat at my desk at my sales job looking mean looking because I didn’t get to sleep in that day.
Last year, I went to the gym with my mom because we both had the day off, and why not?
This year, I did what everyone else seemed to be doing and went to see Selma.
Turns out, that was the right thing for me to do because I learned something. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know about Dr. King or Bloody Sunday or the SCLC. I learned something new about myself. I learned that I want to leave a legacy of my own one day.
Ava DuVernay’s Academy Award-nominated film showed me that everyone has a role to play in the progression of society. Dr. King ended up with his own holiday, but he did not operate alone in seeking freedom. Seeing those unsung warriors celebrated on screen alongside Dr. King made me wonder what it must have been like to be alive and conscious in that time. I saw myself in them. I imagined how I would’ve acted and reacted while marching across that bridge. I wondered what role I would’ve played, what I would’ve done to aid the Civil Rights Movement.
And I realized, I have a role to play right here, right now, today. On this day, I’m reminded that I have a responsibility—a responsibility to establish a legacy of change, just like Dr. King and all of those people at his side.
I write because I have this responsibility. Others march because of this responsibility. Some teach the babies because of their responsibility. Others make music and sing songs because they have a responsibility to say something profound. We celebrate Dr. King by celebrating our power and responsibility as individuals to create the change we wish to see in the world.
When I was in school, around MLK Day (and all throughout February, actually) we colored pictures in a random Black History coloring book with crayons, and read the “I Have A Dream” speech in our textbooks. This tradition kept up until I graduated high school, by the way. We were taught that Martin Luther King Jr. existed and that he had a dream, but we weren’t taught to keep acting on that dream, or to come up with dreams of our own, or even to question his dream.
I’m an adult now and I know it’s not enough to merely know that Dr. King existed. We have to follow his example and be the example that future generations look back on.
Today is not a vacation day. It’s not a day to be lazy. It’s a day to remember, to learn more, and to understand what people have died for, what they’re still dying for, and what rights we should be willing to die for. It’s a day to decide what you’re going to do to make the world you live in a better place.
I watched Selma and I watched all of those people march into history. They had a problem with they way they were treated. They stood up, they said something and they became legendary. Their turn is over. It’s our turn now.
We aren’t all going to be marchers and speech makers. But whatever your gift is, you have a responsibility to use it to fulfill the dream to make this world a place of equal opportunity and of peace; A place where we celebrate differences of culture and color, instead of being afraid of what we don’t understand. That’s how we stay on the front lines of justice and change. That’s how you celebrate Dr. King Day.
We—young, old, Black, white, male, female, gay, straight, married, single,—we are the change makers. We are the Dr. Kings, the Langston Hughes, the Rosa Parks, the Ida B. Wells, the Nat Turners, the Madame C.J. Walkers, the W.E.B. DuBois, the Thurgood Marshalls. We are the heroes in the making, the coming crusaders for change.
How will history remember your contribution? How will you celebrate Dr. King Day?