It is mid January and it is once again the birthday of one our nation’s giants, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His good works and his amazing legacy live on through the anti-discrimination laws that he helped to change and the attitudes and hearts of many Americans that he changed as well. The League of Women Voters of Florida salutes Dr. King and his legacy.
Dr. King’s efforts and accomplishments are so grand and so multi-layered, that it is easy to think it is too difficult for us as individuals to emulate his actions and follow his path. We tell ourselves that since we can’t impact the world in the way that Dr. King did, then maybe we shouldn’t try to make a journey into civil rights territory.
Yet, there are many pathways that we can take that lead us meanderingly, and individually, or collectively to a destination of uplifting and betterment for all. We have an amazing recent example of such a pathway to civil rights uplift.
In November 2018, almost 65 percent of voting Floridians made such a journey and returned the eligibility to vote to 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions who had completed their sentences (excluding murderers and felony sex offenders).
That journey required compassion, understanding, and seeing the humanity of our fellow man and woman. It was a journey of faith, and redemption, and forgiveness all at once.
These were many of the signposts that Dr. King followed when he took his mighty path for civil rights. He followed that path when he gathered with hundreds of thousands of brave activists at the March on Washington, and when he marched with courage in the face of real threats across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
Although we may not be faced with the explicit racism found in laws, schools, and housing restrictions that kept blacks and whites separate and unequal, we all have many opportunities in our daily lives to follow Dr. King’s steps to elevate and protect civil rights, dignity, and equal opportunity for all.
Some of our opportunities to emulate Dr. King are easier for us to do than others, but every effort to see the humanity and intrinsic value of someone different than ourselves brings us all closer to realizing Dr. King’s dream.
We have a chance to emulate Dr. King when we greet someone warmly and have a discussion with someone who may be different from the others in a room.
We emulate Dr. King when we hear someone saying negative things about a person simply because of their race, ethnicity, or religion, and we speak up and say that those comments are not acceptable.
We are inspired by Dr. King when we welcome our future in-laws to our homes and hearts even though the shape of their eyes, their skin tones, their gender, or their accent is different from what we define as “normal.”
Dr. King would be so proud of each of these acts of humanity, because he knew that the intimate and personal changes that we make to our lives often lead to a destination of equality under the law and a change of heart about our own biases.
This walk of peace and justice — this journey to the mountaintop that Dr. King eloquently described — requires us to stretch ourselves, and to challenge our beliefs, and to make our hearts and minds open to doing the right thing at the right time, rather than walking away and shrugging that it is someone else’s burden. This is the message that Dr. King left with us, and as demonstrated by the recent passage of the restorative Amendment 4, many Floridians are open, willing, and able to follow paths to justice.