On July 14, 1964, accompanied by a heavy police presence because of numerous violent threats made on his life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, to deliver a commencement speech at Springfield College. “Violence often wins temporary victories, but in the end it creates more problems than it solves,” Dr. King said to the graduates. In the face of danger, he had once again persevered, displaying the personal bravery that inspired not only those who gathered for his speech that day, but countless Americans since.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is designated a national holiday and a day of service on the third Monday of every January. This year, it falls on Jan. 18, as we commemorate the foremost civil rights leader, activist and humanitarian of his time. Dr. King’s example motivated people around the globe to confront injustice nonviolently during one of the darkest periods in American history and still inspires us to fulfill his vision of making our world a better place.
Known for his powerful and insightful words, Dr. King once told us that, “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.” Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King promoted civil disobedience as a method to end racial and economic injustice. Dr. King preached that people should be treated according to their actions and not by the color of their skin or religious beliefs, and fought to ensure that America stood true to “what it said on paper,” that “all men are created equal.”
“We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability,” Dr. King said, expressing the idea that, without people who are willing to work diligently toward change, “time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.” Dr. King highlighted that segregation was morally wrong because it denied people their basic rights to education, prosperity and health. His leadership encouraged passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation, and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, which made discriminatory voting practices illegal.
Today, we face challenges like those that fueled Dr. King’s dream for the future of America. As we strive for criminal justice and education reforms in New York State, as well as solutions to the widening opportunity gap between the wealthy and everyone else, it’s important that we embrace his values and remember his legacy. Dr. King believed in providing all people with equal opportunities to succeed, and here in New York we know that begins with a quality education. That’s why I’ve been working hard to invest in our schools and give educators the support they need to help our children learn and grow. With an eye toward the future, I’ll keep fighting so that all New Yorkers have equal access to quality health care, good-paying jobs and a livable wage, because East End families deserve a chance to achieve a higher quality of life.
In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” His words encourage us to think about our role in society and how we can help make the world a better place. In honor of Dr. King’s legacy, we observe this day as an occasion to recommit ourselves to the fight for social justice and equality for all.
Fred Thiele is a member of the New York State Assembly representing the East End’s Assembly District One. He lives in Sag Harbor.
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