Dr. King, Not Just a Holiday Remembrance

“An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity….Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

“I refuse to accept the view… that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

                                                                                 Martin Luther King Jr.

 by Bob Schelen

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a tenacious advocate for the elimination of discrimination, and a tireless advocate for the poor.  I know this is after this year’s day of celebration for Dr. King, however, if we only pay attention to Dr. King’s message on one day, we are only paying lip-service to the causes he fought for.

After the celebrations and the remembrances, we must continue to work throughout the year, all the years, we cannot stop at one day. Especially know, especially when we have to fight to retain the progress we have made. Remember, Dr. King was an activist that wanted us to move mountains, for the end of poverty, to work against social injustice and economic inequality.

In 1994, this holiday, first observed nationally in 1984 (and by California in 1978, ultimately becoming a paid holiday in 1981) was expanded by President Clinton’s signature on the Martin Luther King Junior Federal Holiday and Service Act.  This act expanded the mission of the holiday to be a day of community service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.

Dr. King encouraged Americans to come together to strengthen communities, alleviate poverty and acknowledge dignity and respect for all human beings. Service, he realized, was the great equalizer and we honor his memory by giving back to the community. We need to do it all year long. Especially at the local level.

Consider what you can do to continue Dr. King’s mission throughout the year.  The opportunities are limited only by your imagination.

At the State level, California has a proud tradition of leadership on civil rights.  We were one of the first states in the nation to pass laws protecting the rights of racial and religious minorities.  In 1959, the Legislature passed the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which forbade discrimination in employment.  Four years later, the California Legislature enacted the Rumford Fair Housing Act.  Steps were also taken to increase minority enrollment in the state’s colleges and universities.

Those opposed to civil rights and civil liberties reacted swiftly and loudly.  These opponents responded by placing Proposition 14 on the November 1964 ballot.  This proposition proposed to repeal the Rumford Fair Housing Act and amend the California Constitution to ban future anti-discrimination legislation.  Fear became the driving force behind the campaign and the proposition was approved by the voters.  It was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court.

Labor, religious and civil rights organizations formed a progressive coalition that continued to push for legislative and administrative change.  Fair housing and human rights commissions were established at the local, state and federal levels to monitor the enforcement of the government’s anti-discrimination policy.  Progress was also made in other areas, including television and the movies.

By the time Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he had set in motion the forces of social change.  In the process of changing the laws, he also succeeded in moving public attitudes towards race relations.  The African American civil rights movement also created opportunities for other disadvantaged groups, including those with disabilities.

Forty-nine years after Dr. King’s death, the participation of African Americans in the political and economic mainstream has increased significantly.  President Obama was a testament to the hard work of these civil rights pioneers.  But, clearly with the election of Donald Trump, we know there is more work to do.

In recent years, the shooting of unarmed African-Americans by law enforcement has caused us to look how we can improve police/community relations. This is a sensitive and important topic that should not be left to fester without significant discussion and action.  As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

And, have voting still not become universal; there are organized efforts designed to keep African Americans (and other minority groups) from voting in impoverished urban and rural areas. It is just amazing that in 20016, we continued to see blatant efforts to clearly depress the votes of Latinos, Black, poor people and students’ difficulties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and yes, even California!

What was amazing was hundreds stood in line to vote, remembering Dr. King’s legacy. However the efforts to depress the vote of students and people of color found success in 2016 as we saw the voter turnout decrease precipitously in communities of color. We need to be ever vigilant in our efforts to fight this suppression of the vote in 2018 and beyond.

Indeed, there continues to be in state legislature after state legislature, bills to suppress the ability to vote…and this suppression has been aimed at the very people that Dr. King and others fought so hard to secure their right to vote…people of color, low-income people and students among them. And although many take pride that an African American can now ascend to the Presidency and be re-elected, there are others that, remarkably, continue to question if the President is even a citizen and one of those people has now been elected President!

There are studies that show there is race relations have declined in the years President Obama has been in office and it is clear there has been a backlash to many of the policies put in place to create a more just world.  Such things show us that we still have much work to do.

And this month that we honor the life of Dr. King is the perfect place to start.  Let us do so in way that would make him proud, by fighting against injustice everywhere, including our local communities.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Tia Will

    Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

    I believe that this is the core issue that we are now facing as a country. Do we believe in creative altruism, or do we believe in a Randian form of objectivist selfishness ?  I was 17 when I made the realization that Ayn Rand did not share my belief that acting in one’s own true self interest means acting on the principle that each and every life has the same value as my own and that my responsibility is to do as much good for as many as I can for as long as I can, one basic precept of my Methodist upbringing. Although I long ago left behind the creation story inherent in that upbringing, the teaching of the importance of altruism has always resonated with me. This will be a challenging time for me as the Randian view seems to be prevailing at least at the national level.

  2. Howard P

    “creative altruism”… what does that mean?  “objectivist selfishness”? Same question…

    An American author wrote about “altruism”… he opined that a person does that which gives themselves the least pain, gets them the most ‘comfort’/recognition… he equated “altruism” with a type of  “selfishness”

    A sampling… http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/philosophers/twain/#II…

    As Twain (Clemens, actually) points out that there is nothing wrong in training folk to see that serving others serves yourself… I see much wisdom there… there is nothing wrong in CHOOSING to believe that serving/helping others serves your own well-being/ego/recognition (all “selfish”)… forcing folk to be altruistic serves no purpose, and may (as we have seen) create a backlash, because of the coercion… societal and/or financially…

    If we choose to serve others, for our own selfish reasons, it’s all good… think Dr King would approve of that theory… perhaps in the next life, I can ask him… might not be able to report back, though… I do know that if someone demands that I do or believe something, my first reaction is very negative… even if I had been inclined to do/believe it… think I’m just ‘wired’ that way…


  3. Tia Will


    Ayn Rand has written extensively on the subject of objectivism and her central idea is that altruism is a form of corruption and that the highest moral imperative is to act selfishly. It was these concepts that I was referencing.

  4. Nancy Price

    At the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration on Monday, the Mayor asked us to write on a card “what justice means to me” with a comment. His basket was filled and now he’ll sort, categorize and report back in such a way as to shape what “justice” means for the community and ways forward, perhaps, to realize our individual and collective dreams.

    Bob Schelen’s wonderful article calls us to reflect that if we just remember Dr. King “on this birthay, we are only paying lip service to the causes he fought for.”

    Much attention is given to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” I’d live, however, to call attention to the speech he gave on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City – “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” – exactly a year before he was killed.

    This speech market his shift from civil rights to an examination of the system of oppression at home and abroad, of war and imperialism, in which he said, “when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people,” the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

    He called for a “revolution of values,” a shift from a “thing-oriented society” to a “people-oriented society.” He envisioned “a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation.” He cautioned: “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Might this be a starting point to examine where extreme militarism, materialism and racism is leading us today?

    By happenstance on April 4, 2011 when I attended a memorial service for Dr. King at Riverside Church, I met and became friends with Vincent Harding the author of Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (now in paperback). Harding, a historian and teacher, was King’s great long-time friend, organizer and author of the “Beyond Vietnam” speech that touched off a firestorm.

    In a 2005 lecture, Dr. Harding said: “Men do not get assassinated for wanting children of different colors to hold hands on a mountainside….He was telling us to march on segregated housing, segregated schools, poverty, a military with more support than social programs. That’s where he was….If we let him go where he was going, then he becomes a challenge, not a comfort.” Harding was haunted by the fact that the speech he wrote and King gave in 1967, let to his death in 1968.

    Here’s a link to information about the book and Vincent Harding


    and to beautiful obituary for Vicent Harding on his death in May 2014




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