In this short clip of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee some 50 years ago, we see the pressing nature of duty. At this very moment, we are still combating national issues of gun violence, minimum wage, affordable housing, and urban economic development that affect all communities nationwide. Youth are still at the forefront of the movement; inspiring the world with fresh eyes and new zeal using protests and chants to unify the language of the unheard. What rings differently, however, is a new hope for the future.
It is the same hope that was felt on January 20, 1986 when the United States of America officially observed Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. At the urging of Coretta Scott-King, the national holiday bill was first proposed by Rep.John Conyers and Senator Edward Brooke to Congress in 1979. The bill was met with major opposition. To honor Dr. King, a civilian and private citizen, would break from national tradition to honor those who held public office. Also, the thought of paid holiday for federal workers was noted as expensive. But that didn’t stop the movement.
The King Center, major advocates of the bill, took to the streets to enlist the public, corporate and private sectors to pressure legislators to pass the bill. The popularity of this movement reached Hollywood when Stevie Wonder joined the movement in 1980. The timeless “Happy Birthday” anthem release in 1980 and the wildly successful Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981 catapulted the campaign. Over 6 MILLION signatures were collected in petitions to Congress to pass the law, considered the “largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. History” according to the King Center. In 1983, an announcement from the Rose Garden of the White House on a brisk November morning by President Ronald Reagan officially recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day every third Monday in January as a federal holiday.
Today, we celebrate the birth of a King and his dream of #BlackExcellence. We recognize his brilliance, selflessness, and supreme service to all mankind against all odds. For this he will always be The People’s Elected Public Servant. As Stevie Wonder penned in his brief essay in 1981,
“Martin Luther King was a man who had that strength. He showed us, non-violently, a better way of life, a way of mutual respect, helping us to avoid much bitter confrontation and inevitable bloodshed. We still have a long road to travel until we reach the world that was his dream. We in the United States must not forget either his supreme sacrifice or that dream.”
–Reclaim The Dream–