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  • Writer's pictureEvangeline Lawson

What I’ve Learned from Dr. King’s Legacy

On today, when we all take a minute to reflect on what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means to the world at large, hopefully, life applications that can be gleaned from all of the quotes, memes, and clips of speeches are equally reflected upon, as a mandate for personalizing one of the most influential leaders in history. Defining Dr. King’s legacy as something that is out of touch or in ways too big for many of us to achieve, is not only undermining the motivation behind his work, but also absolves us of responsibility to fit into the larger narrative of change. I choose to look at Dr. King’s commitment to the betterment of himself, through education, while likewise educating others, as a means of revolution. Thus, valuable and essential to upending this broken system we are subjected to. I view his dedication as encouragement to personally be a champion of learning, exploring all the ways to do so, while inspiring others to educate themselves. All of which can be an impetus for radical change.

Generally, Americans are ignorant. Some willfully, but others due to a lack of educational resources. As a person who loves to learn without limits, I often find myself in the minority of people who seek to expand their minds beyond what is acceptable. As a Black woman, I recognize that while I am not alone in my endeavors (as Black women have become increasingly educated over time), a lot of people do not share my yearning for acquiring information. I realize that deficiency is almost undeniably linked to a lack of reading. At times, people are so averse to reading that they not only shun the idea, but cut down any one who embraces the notion, often resorting to belittling or dismissing the avid reader. As with many things though, I view this as a response related to fear, but also ignorance that is perpetuated in society on a regular basis. Honestly, when was the last time our favorite celebrities or role models (outside of Oprah) spent time really pumping up their love of books? Reading has been reserved as a hobby for the scholar, the social misfits; relegated to the uncool. Sadly, leaving a greater portion of the American population without a reliable foundation for opinions, values, and general principles of living.

While I am a proponent of formal education, myself having two degrees, I do not believe that educating oneself must be limited to the confines of a classroom, nor do I think it is solely dependent on reading books. However, I do view education as the expansion of one’s mind. That can be achieved using various mediums. Although I personally prefer books, I do recognize that even being able to own books, is itself a privilege. One of which I take full advantage of, but do not judge those who cannot. As Dr. King stated, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of a true education.” So when I speak of educating ourselves, do I mean reading? Yes. But that also extends to studying, which can exist in the form of listening and watching. It just needs to be based in something real, and more importantly, facts not just feelings. Doing so, can unlock a wealth of knowledge that not only clarifies the root of social ills, but also the emotions we experience in response to them, and subsequently build our character. This separates those that merely identify problems from those who are committed to presenting solutions. It also forces us to think beyond what we see and have been told, to the deeper causes of what we are experiencing. These are key components to existing beyond the limits of just surviving, but advancing us to thriving.

So as the sun sets on January 18, 2021 and we are caught in between hope and trepidation with the upcoming shift of political power in this country, I challenge us all to ask are we living out Dr. King’s legacy in a personal way? Are we making the active choice to not just remember the man and the events attached to his name, but his values that contributed to the motivation behind them? How can we profess to be gatekeepers of the dream, if we do not actualize it in some way on a regular basis? How do we tap into our power to fight against a system that is set up to see some of us fail? My answer: empower yourself through learning. Be the champion of acquiring information that will have you better poised to face opposition because you decide to gain a stronger, more developed understanding of it. There are definitely limits placed upon all of us in some form, but we do not want to participate in limiting ourselves. That is what Dr. King’s legacy inspires in me. Hopefully remembering his legacy will not just be a practice of routine, but assist us in applying substance and context to all of the quotes, speeches and memes that we so flippantly reference, but truly need to live by.

© Evangeline M. Lawson January 18, 2021

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