To me, Martin Luther King Day used to mean a day off of school. It meant that I would hear my first grade teacher tell me about freedom and race and an assassination—all things that, at seven years old, I did not understand.
It is strange how 13 years later I am feeling the impact of that man heavily upon me.
Working on a march in Dr. King’s honor for the President’s Commission on Racial and Cultural Diversity, I was able to take part in a small but simple march from Slocum Hall to Hamilton Williams Campus Center at the beginning of this semester.
Even though no more than 20 showed up, the march had an intimate impact on me. I was walking to reflect on the life of a man I would never meet, a man I would never hear speak.
Still, in hearing the opening and closing words of Chaplain Powers and President Jones, I felt connected to Dr. King’s dream.
It all came to a head for me when I was watching the short documentary, “The Witness: From the Balcony of 306” in Ham-Wil last week among housemates and peers.
I was struck, not only by the content of the documentary, highlighting Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles’ friendship with Dr. King, but also some of the images and moments around Dr. King’s death.
Now that I think about it, I probably saw some of these images in first grade, learning about MLK Day. It was the images of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike that moved me the most. Men in the strike lined the streets wearing signs that said only, “I am a man.”
Despite the perhaps unfairly gendered nature of this statement, it hit home for me in my life. Outside of their race, jobs or religion, all of the men striking were just that—men.
It reminded me that despite all of the labels society places on me: gay, ex-Muslim, multi-racial, liberal—I am still a man. I am still human.
It is this humanness that I want to remember from the work of Dr. King. What was then called a brotherhood of men could be transposed to a family of humans. We all have an underlying humanness that we share.
We are bound not by our race or our religion. Instead we are only bound by our commitment to our fellow members of the community, our friends, our family and our classmates.
Everything that I have said has most certainly been said before, but for me it is the reminder that counts.
I think it is important that we recognize the bonds we share as a community.
I think we should embrace that community, if not in honor of Dr. King, then in honor of all the relationships that have been founded at this great university.