Today is a day heavy with symbolism as we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King while the first African-American U.S. President is publicly sworn in for the second time. On the surface on a day like this Dr. King’s dream that a person be judged by the content of his (or her) character and not the color of his (or her) skin seems almost realized. It is without doubt an extraordinary achievement of the Civil Rights Movement that the 21st century ushered in the Obama era. But it is equally without doubt that the work to accomplish the dream, much less the revolution in values that Dr. King spoke about later in his life has barely begun. From what many now refer to as “the New Jim Crow” as chronicled by Michelle Alexander to the shocking economic inequality we face today, the reasons to take up Dr. King’s call to move from an era of civil rights to an era of human rights remain powerful.
That era, as envisioned by Dr. King required moving from a “thing-centered” to a “person-centered” society. Exactly one year before his death, in one of his most courageous speeches he declared “when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Today, communities across the country continue to take up his call with grassroots campaigns that demand we put people first and human rights for all. Like the visionary local campaigns of the past that sparked national movements, it is this on the ground work that holds the greatest promise for change today. Communities accross the country know there is no better way to honor the King legacy than to continue the struggle for which he ultimately gave his life.