You’ve no doubt people on social media posting quotes from Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr whenever his birthday approaches or whenever the rights of Black people are brought back into the public’s consciousness.
The immortalised words of the most recognisable spokesperson for Civil Rights resonated with a nation grappling with segregation and racial injustice in the 1960s and, tragically, held just as much weight in 2020.
As the COVID pandemic and murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police reminded the world just how far we have to go in the areas of equality and tolerance, many people found themselves returning to the more famous quotes once spoken by the famed activist.
While it’s wonderful to see so many people apparently unified in the quest for social justice, the work is decidedly more involved than quoting Dr King and patting yourself on the back. Much like the millions of black squares that were posted on Instagram for Black Out Tuesday, the gesture needs to be supported by something actionable.
On Martin Luther King Day (Monday, January 17, 2022) social media is typically flooded once more with people posting quotes they may not necessarily understand the background of nor have any intention of doing something further about it once the day has passed. It’s possible that even the origins of the day itself are a mystery to some who claim to support its purpose.
MLK Day, which occurs on the third Monday in January, is the result of King’s wife Corretta campaigning to have her late husband’s birthday recognised as a national holiday. Coretta fought for 15 years to see her initiative come to fruition, with then-president Ronald Reagan making it official on Nov. 2, 1983.
Coretta, like her husband, was a fierce activist who fought alongside Dr King in his fight for civil rights. After he was murdered on April 4, 1968, Coretta Scott King continued her advocacy work, fighting for the LGBTQIA community, to end unemployment in the US and taking a stand for Black South Africans who endured Apartheid.
The King’s youngest daughter, Dr Bernice King, urges people to remember the tireless work of her mother on a day dedicated to her Dad.
Bernice King, a minister, took to Twitter to remind her followers of the role her mother played in supporting her father’s legacy, marching alongside him and collaborating with many of the most prolific civil rights activists of the 1960s.
As you honor my father today, please honor my mother, as well. She was the architect of the King Legacy and founder of @TheKingCenter, which she founded less than three months after Daddy died. Without #CorettaScottKing, there would be no #MLKDay. #MLK #BelovedCommunity pic.twitter.com/cLvgTjeUwE
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 18, 2021
“As you honour my father today, please honour my mother, as well,” she wrote. “She was the architect of the King Legacy and founder of The King Center, which she founded less than three months after Daddy died. Without Coretta Scott King, there would be no MLK Day.”
If you are looking for ways to honour the Kings and their incredible work, here are some ways you can do so beyond re-posting their quotes.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
This is one of Dr King’s most urgent calls to action as he challenged a generation of people to really look inwards and be honest with themselves about their contribution to the fight for equality.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The message really is simple – it is imperative to make our voices heard when we see or hear things that trouble us. When you are witness to a racial slur, acts of discrimination or the use of a microaggression, speak up.
Sometimes, the person who is the target of such attacks will not feel comfortable defending themselves for fear of further conflict. Take the time to address the person who is perpetrating bad behaviour and explain to them why they are out of line.
It’s up to all of us to dismantle the idea that there is any such thing as “casual racism” and sadly, simply posting a quote or two will not do the trick.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
It is this philosophy that was central to much of Dr King’s work and it remains important today.
It can be scary and difficult to step out of our comfort zones and really delve into the issues of racism, deaths in custody, racial profiling and pervasive discrimination. However, it is necessary to do so in order to truly effect change.
Posting a black square or MLK quote from the confines of our own home becomes nothing more than performance if we are not also willing to truly examine how we might contribute to a more just and equal world.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Whether you choose to read every book you can get your hands on, sign petitions, implement fairer practices in your workplace, initiate conversations about tolerance within your family, donate money or take to the streets in protest, remember that everyone has their own way of making a difference.
Don’t assume that just because someone isn’t taking the exact same steps that you are, that they are not doing the work. It is important, of course, to hold ourselves and each other accountable but equally important to do so kindly.
‘The time is always right to do what is right.”
At the end of the day, the aim is to ensure that the words and vision of the late, great Dr King are not relegated to the archive of our Instagram stories but carried out with the aim of building the world he so famously dreamed of — and what better time to start than today?