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The Life + Legacy of Dr. King: A Fight on the Ice!

Dr. King Legacy

January 18, 2021

Each year, we celebrate the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of his assassination on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was 39 years of age — a relatively young man. A man whose life was cut short far too soon; however, Dr. King still managed to do more during his short-lived life, compared to men twice his age. On January 15, 2021, Dr. King would have turned 91 years old, and we would have been able to say, “job well done, he lived a long and prosperous life.” But today, we are only left with the memories of this giant of a man, who boldly and courageously spoke truth to power, encouraging love over hate and nonviolence over violence.

What has always intrigued me about Dr. King, was his fortitude and determination to keep fighting, even in the face of adversity. Throughout my research and study of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, there’s three key lessons that I have taken from his life and legacy.

Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself

The first lesson that I encountered was that although confronting hate, violence and racism, Dr. King didn’t waiver from his faith, and what he stood for — love thy neighbor as thyself. He never once called the oppressed to take up arms and meet violence with violence. He didn’t ask members of his community to overthrow our democracy, nor did he incite insurrection. Yet, he was labeled a threat and a danger for battling against laws, standards and practices that treated and labeled Black people as second-class citizens. Dr. King wasn’t a threat because he called his people to retaliate, he was a threat because he dared to dream out loud!

He used his voice and position to speak truth to power and to be a voice for those struggling to speak. His iconic “I have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, was a speech that was never supposed to happen. That is, until a woman by the name of Mahalia Jackson, who was sitting on the stairs, to the right of Dr. King, called out, “tell them about the dream Martin, tell them about the dream.” From that moment forward, Dr. King’s message would forever be engrained in the hearts and minds of millions across the globe.

Find Strength in Community

That brings me to my second takeaway from this great man. At every turn, Dr. King was surrounded by people who knew and supported his dreams, even though he knew he would never be able to realize it for himself. He looked to the church for peace and faith. He looked to the members of Black Greek Letter Organizations for support and strength. He looked to Black women like Mahalia Jackson, Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hammer, for their resilience, tenacity and courage. I have learned from Dr. King the power of community and the beautiful strength that lies within.

Continue to Fight for Social Justice + Equity

The third and final point that I would like to share ironically comes from the final act in the life of Dr. King. Today, we glorify the man, and we revere the legacy he left behind. We honor and celebrate him for holding America accountable and demanding that we be true to what we said on paper:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Declaration of Independence

While we praise him today, I would be remised if I didn’t mention Dr. King as the FBI’s most dangerous man in America. He was labeled by many Black leaders as betraying the movement and called a traitor and un-American for being against the Vietnam War and for desiring economic freedom and expansion within the Black community. This stage of his life has brought peace in understanding into my very own life and brings me to my final point. In the fight for social justice and equity, you may die on the wrong side of people’s perception, but you will forever live on in power and in truth!

So, how does the life of this man play out today? WWMD! What would Martin do? I don’t want to speculate where Dr. King would fall politically in today’s world, but we can exegetically deduce from his life as a Christian Minister that he was a radical lover, a man who desired to see the goodness in everyone. We also know that Dr. King was a man who stood by his beliefs in the fair and just treatment of what is biblically considered, the least of them. We certainly can ascertain the idea that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be in the streets, marching, singing and demanding better, because he understood, in the words of the late Vertner Woodson Tandy, “that we must fight till hell freezes over, and then, we must fight on the ice!”

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Anthony Ferguson, Jr. Ed.D.

Dr. Anthony Ferguson, Jr., serves as the executive director of equity, inclusion and diversity for the West Des Moines Community School District. For over 10 years, Dr. Ferguson has integrated an anti-racist and anti-oppression framework into his work. His research focuses on the mental health and well-being of marginalized communities existing in predominantly White spaces.