Legacies are All We Have Forever

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Our lives begins to end the day we grow silent about things that matter. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nonviolent resistance, the cornerstone of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, is a powerful resource we can all practice. January 15 marks his 86th birthday. In his honor, it’s worth thinking about what we can change by lending peaceful actions and words to the things that matter to us.

There are endless issues needing attention from equal rights and the environment to sensible gun control and the unfriendly political personality. We don’t have to argue or blog or Facebook or Tweet. We can show our kids, nieces, nephews and grandchildren what matters by example.

We can choose not to buy them guns to play with, and we can share our doggie bags with the hungry. We can pick litter from the sidewalk and put it in the garbage. We can hang our voting receipt on the refrigerator. We can treat each other respectfully, even if it’s not returned.

Children are sponges so they’ll pick up on what we do as long as we’re consistent. Then, when we can talk to them about weighty matters we have validity. The one or the many little things we’ve chosen to do or not to and the kind words we’ve chosen to say day after day earn us credibility, perhaps the most powerful tool.

Building a legacy begins when we start to care about others. The Montgomery, AL, bus boycott King led in 1955 went on for 381 days before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on transportation was illegal.

In 1963 he was part of the March on Washington, bringing a quarter of a million people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C, to shine a light on the lack of civil rights, jobs and freedom. He had a dream and he told the world about it.

In 1964, at the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Noble Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech he said,

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

In the same year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation.

And he had only just begun. In 1965 he led thousands from Selma to Montgomery, AL, in a nonviolent march for voting rights. They were brutalized by law enforcement every step of the 54-mile route. When marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge through Selma, state troopers on horses attacked them. They were threatened by a restraining order to disband before trying again. Faced with ignoring a pending court order, King led 2000-strong nonviolent marchers again to the bridge and when confronted once more by troopers, the marchers got on their knees to pray then turned around and marched back to Selma. Six months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1968 he was gunned down on his motel room balcony in Memphis, TN, where he was protesting on behalf of striking city garbage workers.

You can choose not to rally thousands and still create change. The courage of your convictions makes a difference in your world every day. Every little person in your life looks up to you in every sense of the word. Think about using your words and actions for the greater good. There’s nothing to lose.

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