Not just Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), but everyone has their own dream of a peaceful society.
One that honors community, acceptance, and the pursuit of your dreams. Of course, MLK made history with his groundbreaking “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28th, 1963, but it is social justice that keeps his words alive and his spirit working toward a better world for all.
This MLK Day, take a moment to reflect on social justice and what that should mean for you. Whether you’re passionate about a certain cause or you’re looking for ways to get involved, below are some helpful things to consider:
What is Social Justice?
Primarily, social justice represents an egalitarian relationship between an individual and society.
It means that all members of society should have equal access to opportunities, wealth, social interactions, and benefits and have the ability to pursue their personal interests and happiness. However, when you look back through the history of America (and the world), it’s easy to see that fairness has been hard to come by.
MLK took passionate stands against U.S. government agencies and systems because their policies left African Americans at a disadvantage to their white counterparts. For him, the ultimate reward and blessing of being an American citizen was to live free like an American—to seek opportunity on the merit of one’s own character and creed, not to be ostracized or neglected because of the color of one’s skin.
Taking inspiration from India’s freedom leader Mahatma Gandhi, MLK used the principles of non-violence and civil disobedience in his civil rights efforts for social change. MLK and Gandhi both led movements that were game-changing for society.
Fast forward 50 years, and many strides have been made, both in America and around the world, to promote equal rights and equal opportunity for all people. But obstacles remain for many who are disadvantaged, creating division and causing unrest for many demographics.
Social justice is about continuing to work toward peace and prosperity in the world and driving meaningful change with activities that inspire love, hope, and enlightenment in peaceful, progressive ways.
Ways You Can Get Involved with MLK Day
Alongside spreading love and awareness among your own social circles, the best way for you to get involved with MLK Day is to take part in the holiday’s message of service.
In fact, when MLK’s birthday became a national holiday in 1983, U.S. Congress decided to also designate it as a national day of service—it’s the only federal holiday that carries the distinction.
What Does That Mean for You?
Being that MLK Day is unique in that sense, this means that you should spend the day fighting against the three barriers that MLK describes. We’ve outlined those barrier, along with contemporary terms described by the King Center:
The financial and systematic oppression of a group or class of people that locks them in a perpetual state of insecurity in terms of their wellbeing and ability to improve their circumstances. Examples today include unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and slums.
The use of stigmas and behavior to classify and demean a demographic in hopes of keeping them an inferior race or class compared to others. Examples today include prejudice, anti-semitism, homophobia, discrimination against disabled groups, and stereotypes.
The organization of government agencies and institutions that aim to restrict the momentum and advancement of their citizens for personal/political gain. Examples today include war, violence, rape, terrorism, human trafficking, and abuse
These hurdles are also outlined by The King Center as “triple evils” that drive communities apart and stoke fear and control over vulnerable populations. So, the goal is to overcome these barriers by way of invoking love and goodwill to those in need.
How You Can Honor MLK Jr.’s Legacy
Even just holding the door open for someone is a small enough gesture to brighten their day, but to truly give back requires your time and effort. That being said, below are some meaningful ways that you can help your fellow man and honor MLK Day at the same time:
Serve food at a homeless shelter or food pantry
Help clean or build homes for people in need
Collect food and clothes at a local church for donation
Volunteer time at a community center or library to help others read and learn a new skill
Help raise money through a local 5K walk/run
Collect old furniture, clothes, kitchenware and donate them to a Goodwill or Salvation Army
You can do almost anything to get involved and spread MLK’s message to your community. The point is that you take the time to give of yourself for a cause that helps everyone rise to their fullest potential. MLK believed in a world where people of all backgrounds could join together in harmony and union, and being a part of that in some small way is more than enough to celebrate his goal.