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Keeping the Dream Alive: How Dr. King’s Legacy of Service Lives On

January 20, 2014

Humble beginnings do not limit what a person can achieve.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a testament to the revolution that one man can create. King is best known for his charismatic leadership and activism during the Civil Rights Movement. While he preached justice and worked to achieve racial integration, he also promoted peace and sought to end poverty.

Despite his prominence, there is nothing remarkable from King’s formative years to suggest he would become the Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader he was. Yet, he has become a legend. King’s legacy lives on through the work carried out by many different leaders in public service. His name rings on the lips of school children, and streets in cities large and small are named for him.

King was one of the most influential leaders of his time. His passion for the common good, his peaceful tendencies, and the legacy of public service he left behind can inspire anyone who is ready to make a difference.

From Humble Beginnings to a Community Leader

Raised in Atlanta, Georgia, King’s family’s involvement in the Baptist Church spurred him to embrace faith and religious leadership. His belief in God led him, and his congregation, to identify with a spirit of giving.  mlk-day-2014

Before his graduation from Morehouse College, King was not only ordained, but he also had his first taste of peaceful activism. His commitment to both religious faith and peaceful activism remained with him throughout his life. Although he moved cautiously at first, King became a central figurehead, around whom people gathered to effect peaceful change. He was known for his ability to garner support from a multitude of organizations—from reform groups to labor unions. His inspirational words delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom have become an everlasting symbol for equality throughout the world.

As legal and legislative progress was made, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year, King expanded his scope of focus. From anti-segregationist and civil rights activism, he moved towards economic concerns and militaristic issues. He spoke out against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and he crossed racial boundaries to focus on the plight of sanitation workers in Memphis.

His Life and Legacy

King’s life was often threatened, and he was arrested several times, but his commitment to public service never faltered. While protesting the segregationist policies of the Montgomery, Alabama, buses, his home was bombed several times, and at a 1958 book signing, he was stabbed with a letter opener.

King’s public image and influence shifted over time. The militaristic drives of Malcolm X gained popularity as the oppressed grew weary of the slow developments delivered through peaceful marches and King’s “love thy neighbor” rhetoric. King himself was torn between the differing extremes in approach. Although he refused to organize and allow marches to continue without court approval, they sometimes turned violent, often leading to his arrest.

On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, while preparing his next sermon. Although his death cut short his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, King’s legacy lives on as a shining example of the strides an individual activist can make. Most people can see the effect of King’s public service in their everyday lives. His vision was immense, and the issues that he tackled were fundamental.

A Day of Commitment and Service

To recognize the work of King and his legacy, the US government designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. In 2014, we will celebrate the work and commitment of King on January 20. While the date changes annually, it always falls on a Monday so that Americans can honor King’s memory through volunteer efforts and community involvement.

The official website for Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides a list of public service initiatives in every area of the country. Whatever your public service passion, you can participate. Led by motivated individuals and committed communities, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an opportunity for individuals to give back. Make this year the year that you make a difference in your community.

About Chasity chasity

A lover of all things public relations and marketing, Chasity Cooper is currently a community relations coordinator for the UNC School of Government’s online public administration program, MPA@UNC. In 2012-2013, she served as the Alumni Outreach VISTA at Higher Achievement in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter at @chasityscooper.

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