“Transform the jangling discords… into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”


Public Domain Photo: National Park Service

The the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King Jr. was undoubtedly one of America’s most important pioneers in civil rights. King, a Baptist minister from Georgia, is famous for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance, and in particular, his “I Have a Dream” speech, a defining moment of the civil rights movement. He was considered so influential that, in 1983, president Ronald Reagan signed into law Martin Luther King Jr. Day, observed the third Monday of January every year. Many schools, including St. Paul Academy and Summit School take the day off in order to honor his memory.

The problem is that this isn’t happening.

It has become the case that many students will just use Martin Luther King Jr. Day to get more homework done or hang out with friends. The day has become more about having a day off from school, and not about honoring the memory of Dr. King. While this is perfectly acceptable to those that have a lots of homework to do, or haven’t hung out with their friends in a while, Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be considered a day “on” rather than a day “off.” Students should feel obliged to do something to further improve their community, just like Dr. King did. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be considered a day ‘on’ rather than a day ‘off.’”

The activities that students participate in can come in a variety of forms. One student may chose to watch the entirety of the “I Have a Dream” speech, while another may go do charity work. Students could take the day to learn more about King, his mission and his work. Or they could spend some time in a place in the Twin Cities named for Dr. King and see his legacy in action. Or they could attend one of the many weekend events.

All of these approaches are valuable, because they ensure the values Dr. King stood for will be around for generations to come. While there is no “right” level of action one should take on this day off, every individual should feel responsible in reflecting and engaging with Dr. King’s ideas, thinking about how he shaped the world we live in now. It could be argued that America still is working towards the perfect society Dr. King laid out through his sermons and speeches, and that it is our duty, as American citizens, to keep working towards the vision Dr. King had of America, especially on the day that honors him. So, whether you stay home and read his writings, or go out and help the less fortunate, remember that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is to both honor how far we’ve come as a country since the 1960s and acknowledge that we still have a long way to go in order to, as King put it, “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”