Today’s national holiday rises as more than a day off work to honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the titan of the modern civil-rights movement in the United States.
Like many other American holidays, it is also a time to reflect on, appreciate and recommit to a set of singularly American attributes that holidays represent.
It is not unlike the Fourth of July, when U.S. citizens of all backgrounds take time to relish the freedoms and liberties we continue to enjoy.
It is not unlike Memorial Day, when we recognize and honor the American attributes of selflessness and sacrifice for a higher cause.
Nor is it unlike Thanksgiving Day, when we celebrate that quintessentially American trait of compassion and thankfulness for the bounties for which we have been blessed.
On today’s holiday, the 33rd official national observance of MLK Day, all should take time to reflect not only on the man but on his noble ideals of tolerance, diversity, acceptance and community building. Today those principles have seeped into the daily mindset of most – but not all – American citizens. This holiday also is a day to act on those ideals in both our words and deeds.
The 2018 observance of MLK Day, which takes place in this 50th anniversary year of the assassination of the civil-rights giant, unfortunately finds a good segment of our populace still fighting some of the same battles King fought on the streets of Montgomery and Memphis; in the sanctuaries of Atlanta and Birmingham; and on the grounds of the Alabama Statehouse and the U.S. Capitol.
Sadly, a resurgence of open hatred, intolerance and bigotry has raised its ugly head in recent months and years in our nation and state.
Nationally, we remember vividly the murders of nine black participants in a prayer service in a Charleston, S.C., church by an enraged white supremacist in 2015. We recall the repugnant racist violence and death at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., last summer organized by neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists. And we recall just last week the latest misguided and vulgar castigation of some immigrants – particularly those of color – from our nation’s president.
Within our own state, progress toward healing race relations also continues to leave much to be desired. Results from a comprehensive study on the topic by personal-finance website WalletHub, released last week, paint an unflattering picture of the Buckeye State.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and other credible sources, the study placed Ohio in the bottom rung among states in the quality of race relations and racial equality.
Ohio ranked a lowly 37th in measuring the scope of meaningful racial integration. It ranked 39th – well below former Jim Crow states Alabama and Mississippi – in the degree of racial progress it has achieved in recent years. And it came out 47th highest among the 50 states in the size of the gap between unemployed whites and blacks.
Clearly, such findings and trends have left their marks on Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley in the form of school and neighborhood resegregation, race-based voting blocs and unacceptably high minority joblessness.
In sum, the renewed turmoil in race relations and racial justice makes this year’s observance of MLK Day particularly poignant.
Toward healing the wounds and narrowing the widening divides, Americans of all ilks must muster up the will to study and then heed the inspirational appeals of the Baptist minister.
King’s creed focused heavily on not only encouraging respect and fair treatment for all; he also called on all Americans of good will to put those ideals into action to assist the most vulnerable, the most isolated and the most downtrodden among us. In so doing, we could build what King called “beloved communities” across the U.S.
Those appeals inspired the National Day of Service, which is part of today’s MLK Day observance. In many parts of the country, organized activities accompany this day of service. Valley residents wishing to take part in that effort can join representatives of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. today, beginning at 8:30 a.m., on the 100 block of East Judson Avenue in the city. Volunteers there will clean up trash and board up windows of 14 vacant homes
On this holiday dedicated to civil rights and equality for all, it is incumbent upon all to recommit to the enduring call to action so eloquently enunciated by King at his 1963 March on Washington.
In so doing, his still evolving “Dream” for a totally egalitarian America will never be allowed to fade from our collective consciousness.