In your passion to honor and remember Martin Luther King Jr., it may be tempting to jump on the social media bandwagon and quickly find your favorite MLK quote to post today. But don’t do that—at least not immediately.
Only posting a popular quote is a shallow celebration of King’s legacy because it commemorates words without taking the action necessary to empower them. Only posting a quote celebrates King as a social justice celebrity without advancing the actual cause he became famous for. Only posting “I have a dream…” suggests that simply giving a social media “Amen” to King’s ideas is sufficient; it suggests that uplifting his words from 50 years ago can substitute using your own words and actions today.
As a culture, I believe that we’ve become desensitized to the fact that MLK was murdered because he advocated for racial equality. The best way to honor his legacy is to continue to advocate and work for equality, because the fight ain’t ovah.
So before you post—yes, please still post!—take some time to learn more about King’s life and how you can take actual steps to advance his mission.
Before you post, take some time to learn more about King’s life and ways to advance his mission. Here are a couple of facts to get you started:
- The birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was declared a federal holiday after legislation created in 1983 passed.
- In 1994, Congress declared the holiday a national day of service.
See, you learned something already!
If you really want to honor MLK, keep learning about the causes MLK championed, and most importantly—continue championing them. Here are four practical ways:
Read some of MLK’s lesser-known work
Most people, myself included, can likely quote at least one line of a famous King speech, whether it’s “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last!” Or “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
In addition to expressing his hopes for the U.S., King also wrote and spoke extensively about Vietnam, capitalism, voting rights, and more. “Our God is Marching On” and “Letter to Coretta” are two great examples. In the former, he spoke about the urgent need for voting rights for African Americans at the end of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965. In the latter, he wrote about socialism, capitalism, and the need for Christianity to be active—all while wooing his future wife, Coretta.
If you want to honor King’s legacy, take some time to read or listen to one of his lesser-lesser-known writings. Then, reflect on it: What has changed? How can our country grow? What can I do to affect change? When will I do it?
Once you’ve decided, put it on the calendar!
Visit and Give to the King Center
Located in Atlanta, Georgia, the King Library and Archives is a national historic site dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of MLK. According to the website, it is “the largest repository of primary source materials on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement in the world.”
I visited the 23-acre facility with two of my best friends several years back. To this day, I keep the picture of MLK that I purchased there—him in a pristine black suit, positioned on the steps of his aged family home—as a reminder that collective petition and sacrifice can uplift an entire people group from ashes. If you’ve never visited the center, consider visiting either with family or friends. It’s worth the trip. And if you can, give.
Continue to Study the Issues
Although aspects of King’s dream, like voting rights for African Americans, have become reality, other parts, like complete equality, remain a distant dream. If you want to learn more about the unfulfilled parts of King’s dream, I recommend a few books: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and How To Be Less Stupid About Race by Dr. Crystal M. Fleming are excellent resources. The former is a more academic read that details how the U.S. criminal justice system is reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, while the latter discusses racism and racial myths with humor and candor.
Another must-read is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (National Book Award Winner and Pulitzer Prize Finalist). Coates’ portrayal of what it’s like to be a black man living in the U.S. is riveting and necessary.
If you feel like you don’t even know how to talk about race and culture, read So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. It is the best book I’ve ever read about how to think about and discuss race in everyday conversations.
(Please note that I’ve linked all of these books to Eso Won Books, an independent, Black-owned bookstore in Los Angeles because economic empowerment is integral to justice.)
If you want to go a step further—and I encourage you to—host a book club to discuss one of the books with a group of trusted friends. Although anytime is a great time, Black History Month is just around the corner…
Volunteer and Get Political!
King’s life was marked by service to his community, state and nation. If you have the day off (or even if you don’t), take some time to volunteer. Check here for local service opportunities. If you can’t find any close to you, consider creating your own with friends and family. After MLK Day, don’t stop! Find a local or state politician who supports King’s vision and consider campaigning for her (or him). Whatever you do, find a way to continue King’s legacy!
As you can see, there are many ways to advance King’s work in real, concrete ways. Once you take one of these action steps, you will be a true celebrant of MLK Day. Then, your MLK post to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter won’t just be empty words, but words backed by action.
To end, I will leave you with a King quote:
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.