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Why Martin Luther King Jr. Matters to the World

Yasmine Cathell's picture

And not just to the American people or African-American communities.

Simply put, racism is an international problem and not just an American one.

Every so often individuals come around this planet with the ability to frame issues in a manner that not only captivates the world’s attention but touches the hearts of its people. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of those individuals. MLK Day is coming up in America and while honoring his legacy and dedicating a day of for service to others is good, it’s not good enough.

Martin Luther King preached about racial, social and economic equality and justice. He was a proponent of non-violent action to bring about social change. He even traveled to India to learn about non-violent action directly from Gandhi himself. “Ok, so what?” you might be asking right now. Well, just because we have a black president does not mean that racial injustice no longer exists in America today. And we also have to ask ourselves, is it really enough to end racism and social injustice just within the confines of our borders? While the United States is a leading international power it is also a leading international example of a functioning democracy and the freedoms and responsibility that come with that democracy and that freedom.

I’m not saying the US should try to end racism in other countries, but rather that concerned citizens should look past national borders and see racism as a human problem and not just a national one.

I ask that we use MLK day to reflect not just on how far we have come, but more importantly on how far we have left to go. Do you really think that Martin Luther King would have stopped one day and decided: “eh, this is good enough”?  I doubt it. 

Remember, it is the journey and not the destination that defines our character.  You have to ask yourself, “is it better to continue to struggle for what I know is right, or sit idly by because it’s the easier choice?”

We all get that weird tingly nauseous feeling in our gut when we witness something that is unjust, so next time stand up and say something, don’t bite your tongue. Maybe take it a step further and get involved in your community or with an organization that is fighting for a cause you are passionate about. Or maybe just find something you are passionate about. And if taking action is asking too much of you right now, then at least read about issues and add to the social conscience and awareness of what’s going on in your backyard and around the world and talk about it. And if you’re reading this blog you’re probably already doing these things, so maybe try to inspire those around you to find something to struggle for or get involved with.

I’ll leave you with some lesser known words from MLK’s I Have a Dream speech:

We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back."

…And some links about racism at large in the world today:

January 9, 2010: Reid Apologizes for Remarks on Obama’s Color and "Dialect"

January 12, 2010: Southern Italian town "world’s only white town" after ethnic cleansing

Globalization and Racism

And some links about what others are doing:

Institute of Race Relations 
Teaching Tolerance
RACE, Are we so different?
UN World Conference Against Racism 
Special Reports on Racism

And some links about how you can get involved:

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service
Do Something More  
366 Community Service Ideas
What do you want to change?
Connecting Idealists around the world  


Submitted by Bryan on
Excellent work.

Submitted by Anonymous on
You're right, change starts with each of us doing whatever we can to make the world better. Your point about raising social conscience and awareness is particularly well-advised. So many people think that there's nothing they can do, short of joining a charitable cause. Yet many people don't think about these issues at all, so spreading awareness at the individual level can make a significant collective contribution. I look forward to hearing more from you!