Holiday is more than just a day off

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to remember civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The first of these holidays occurred January 20, 1986, to remember King’s work and legacy, often incorporating peace and social justice demonstrations as well as community service projects.

However, 20 years since its first observance, Martin Luther King Jr. Day seems to have slowly lost meaning, at least among many people I know. For them, it’s the same as Veterans Day or Labor Day – nothing more than a day off from classes.

That’s not to say that no one will be out and about this morning, attending programs or volunteering.

But outside of those involved with the University’s fraternities, sororities, and multicultural organizations, it’s likely that many will sleep in, either because they can for once or because they partied a little too hard the previous night.

It feels odd that a holiday commemorating one of the greatest Americans of the past 50 years should apparently be celebrated by sleeping in until noon. What Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be is a day of reflecting on the civil rights leader’s message and incorporating it into our lives, regardless of who we are. Isn’t that part of the reason why the holiday was created in the first place?

In today’s world, King’s dream of an end to racial segregation in America still has great importance. We still live in a world where people are discriminated against based simply on their religion, sexual preference, political views, or any number of physical or personal characteristics, and even racial prejudice still exists and affects us.

One of my friends from high school, who is Asian-American, was so upset over how some people treated her at her first university that she transferred to another school a year before she had planned to.

But Brian, you might be thinking, isn’t there freedom of speech? Doesn’t the First Amendment protect that, no matter how bad you may think it is?

Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, such speech is protected unless it incorporates imminent violence against a person or persons. Governments cannot make a law to ban prejudice or racism, no matter how much someone might disagree with it.

However, just because there’s a law protecting prejudice and racism, does that mean you have to engage in it?

Not at all. The same freedom of speech that protects racism and prejudice also protects the right not to be racist or prejudges. It’s up to each individual person themselves to decide what they truly want to think.

And what about political views? Opposing views are absolutely necessary for a democracy to succeed, but do we need to see the bitter fighting amongst the far-right conservatives and the far-left liberals that has divided the United States in a way not seen since the battle over slavery that led up to the Civil War?

Such attacking and counter-attacking in the halls of Congress doesn’t get anything done. All it does is create compromises that keep both sides unhappy and angry at each other.

I don’t think this is the future that King was thinking of when he made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, but there’s something we as students can do to change it: remember the past and use it to change the future.

The simple act of remembering and reflecting on his message and trying to apply it to your own life doesn’t have to be complicated.

It can be something as big as organizing a community service project to something as small as not telling that next potentially-racist joke to a friend, or trying to think with a little more open-mindedness.

The smallest acts can sometimes make the biggest difference.

As students and future leaders, we must make sure that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just another day off from school, but a day that King’s ideals of equality for all are remembered and reinforced in our minds.

The extra hours you will get to dream are an indirect result of King’s work and struggles he went through for his dream, after all.

Send comments to Brian at [email protected]