On Sunday, our nation dedicated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall. This momentous occasion was filled with moving tributes and great performances. However, in the wake of this dedication, we cannot help but reflect on the true legacy Dr. King left behind, the faith he had in the next generation, and the dream that we must still strive to achieve.
Without question, few shaped our culture and our nation in the 20th century more than Dr. King. His legacy of social justice and activism has played an integral role in so much of what we take for granted today. Without his advocacy for voting rights, people of color might still be unable to cast a ballot unfettered. If not for his work defending the poor, economic disparity in America would be far more than dire than it is today. And without Dr. King’s call for non-violence, the civil rights movement might be remembered for the bloodshed and not for its message of justice and equality.
At the NAACP, Dr. King’s legacy is prominent in our constant struggle to advance civil and human rights. With our Financial Freedom Campaign, we are building on Dr. King’s message that true freedom is inextricably tied to economic justice. With that in mind, we are providing underserved communities across the country with the tools they need to attain and maintain financial stability. In our health campaigns, we have embodied Dr. King’s remark that, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Working under that motto, we are organizing campaigns to bring additional attention and resources to the fight against HIV/AIDS and childhood obesity. When we fight for equality in education, we remember Dr. King’s belief that education functions “to teach one to think intensively and to think critically”, something that all students deserve.
With all that Dr. King gave to the world, his most enduring gift may be the faith he had in others. Dr. King had an unwavering faith that future generations would continue his fight to ensure that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. He trusted that if he provided the vehicle and destination, we would be able to forge our own path towards equality.
We must remember Dr. King’s faith as we fight twenty-first century attempts to roll back rights for people of color. Dr. King succeeded in securing full voting rights for people of all color, but this election season we see a coordinated right-wing push to implement laws that would disenfranchise poor and minority voters. He strove for equality between all races, but our nation is stuck in a “tough on crime” mentality that imprisons African Americans for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of their white counterparts. Dr. King brought his attention to poverty, but these days the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever before, and the war on poverty has been narrowed to a series of bromides and unrealized initiatives.
I grew up in this organization as a member of the NAACP Youth and College Division. Inspired by the work of Dr. King and those who followed him, I joined the Association as a freshman at Virginia Union University and later served as a Youth Board Member. I am proud to say that in its 75th year, our Youth and College Division is 25,000 members strong, making it one of the largest organized groups of young people of any secular organization in the country. These youth are the future of the organization, and we must have faith in them as Dr. King had faith in us. After all, there is still so much to do before we achieve Dr. King’s dream of full equality.
The future is calling, and with your help, the NAACP will answer.