Under the United States’ Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated every third Monday of January. This year, that day falls on January 18— although the Baptist minister and civil rights leader’s actual birthday is on January 15.
This year also marks the 53rd year since MLK’s death on April 4, 1968 by an assassin’s gunshot. Yet, his landmark contributions and legacy to American society and the rest of the world live on. (Read: Eight things to know about Martin Luther King Jr.)
What can present and future generations adopt from this great activist? Here are at least three things!
Martin Luther King Jr. Teach Us to Embrace Equality
MLK was a champion of civil rights, a challenging platform to support given America’s long history of racial segregation. But he stood firm on his beliefs, and mounted boycotts, marches, and sit-ins that changed the course of history. (Read: 3 Times Beyoncé Gave Voice to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement)
His participation in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which resulted after African American commuter Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat to a white passenger, contributed to the Supreme Court’s proclamation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
We too can embrace equality by keeping an open mind and recognizing people as people, regardless of the color of their skin, nationality, or religious beliefs. “Let nobody turn their back on society and feel excluded!” said Pope Francis in 2014. “No to segregation! No to racism!”
Martin Luther King Jr. Teach Us to Fight in a Non-Violent Way
As co-founder and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), MLK pushed for African-American human rights through such non-violent means as peaceful protests, boycotts, and rallies. “Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed” was the SCLC motto and the message of the civil rights leader during such gatherings.
For MLK, who was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, “nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.” Fittingly, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Instead of inciting violence on another— whether physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual— try calmly talking things over. “The practice of dialogue is in fact difficult,” said Pope Francis in 2016. “We must be prepared to forgive and take. We must not assume that the others are wrong. Instead, accepting our differences and remaining true to our positions, we must seek the good of all; and, after having finally found agreement, we must firmly maintain it.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Teach Us to Dream Big
Delivered on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech saw the civil rights activist make such bold pronouncements: “that one day…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood” and “that my four 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.” (Read: Millennial Farmer Shares Wise Words About Farming and Chasing Dreams)
Audacious dreams, all right, but with his tireless and fearless efforts, MLK made them happen against all odds. So don’t let your dreams remain dreams; take action to turn them into reality. “Do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you,” said Pope Francis in 2013. “Do not be afraid to dream of great things!”