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Living MLK's Legacy All Year Long

In anticipation of Martin Luther King Day, Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., charged the Twitter-verse with a challenge. She tweeted:

As your organizations plan for #MLKDay, note:

My father’s legacy is about much more than service projects.

If you plant a tree, also educate about environmental injustice + racial injustice.

If you paint a mural at a school, also host a workshop on inequity in education. #MLK

Bernice reminds us that it’s easy to go through the motions. It’s easy to say Black Lives Matter, and without a doubt, saying it matters. But it’s just one step. In the same way that MLK Day is one day that invites us to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we must go, if we are truly committed to creating a world in which all community members thrive and not merely survive, our goal must be to champion significant acts the other 364 days of the year. Using our voices to speak up for our brothers and sisters who have suffered systemic oppression is absolutely the first step in what will be a complex, and often difficult journey. Patience, tenacity, and determination are required as we walk toward racial justice. 

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The undoing of racial injustice is deeply personal and as an African American woman I carry the burden of invisible scars passed down from my ancestors wherever I go. But I am always encouraged by colleagues and friends that exercise their privilege and power to address the unseen, and closed-door injustices that I may never know. Unfortunately, too often even obvious atrocities may be overlooked when our friends and colleagues close their eyes and keep silent. That silence can be deafening, and even deadly, as Dr. King remind us: “Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter.” It’s a choice, and a personal journey, to seek justice. And I remain thankful for those who stand up, speak up and act up (when needed). Each individual must engage in the process of personal transformation as a required step for organizational transformation.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Bernice King alludes, the education of our youth offers us hope. Our history as a nation is marked in beautiful ways by the long-lasting and profound choices made by young people who boldly commit to justice. They are unconstrained by the limits of their age but empowered fully by the depth of their desire for justice.

Sometimes these young heroes and difference-makers go unnoticed. Some, whose effect is great, will forever remain unnoticed. Others, like Barbara Johns, who in 1951 led a walkout at her all-Black high school to fight for education equity, will (eventually) find themselves memorialized and honored in the most significant ways imaginable, like in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The story of the removal of Confederate General Robert E Lee’s statue in favor of a 16-year-old Black activist, offers a poignant reminder that great and meaningful change often comes through the dedication and commitments of youth.

It validates and ignites our belief that the best way to support and empower change is to support and empower learners.

As an organization, ACT is committed to redoubling our work in support of Black students. Over our 60-year history we’ve seen how educational opportunities empower learners to meaningfully shape and direct the most essential change our society still needs to complete. We celebrate the difference-makers who fight against systemic inequities and lean in to support racial healing. We’re listening and learning with you. Together we can create brave spaces for the bold who strive to bend “the arc of the moral universe” toward justice.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The power of education is transformational, but the learning journey is hardly ever linear. There will be times that we crawl when we wish to run. But no matter the obstacles, never stop. A tweet, a statement, a march, a summit, or a service project on MLK Day, is a great first step. But don’t stop there. Tell your story and the story of others, so the message of justice rings out every day. Use your influence to bring new voices and team members into the company, the club and community. And use your resources to endow a scholarship and/or sponsor a young person with a meaningful experience that will open doors for the future. On behalf of ACT, we’re committed to living Dr. King’s legacy all year long and we celebrate our team member’s individual and collective commitment to moving justice forward.

Join us for a webinar on February 3 at 4:00 p.m., ET on Advancing Postsecondary Success: Strategies for Men of Color in the Age of COVID-19. The webinar will feature Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe, founder, current CEO and president of the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). Dr. Bledsoe will highlight his personal story and his experience as a young Black youth who spoke with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while living in the segregated South during the 1960s. Dr. Bledsoe will also share his SAAB student-driven model of empowering men of color to be change agents for personal and community success.

We’re committed to fighting for fairness in education. By partnering to learn, adapt, and do what needs to be done, each day we seek to overcome systemic inequalities in our society, and ensure that Martin Luther King Day is more than a moment in time, or a mark on our calendar. Join me in committing to live Dr. King’s legacy all year long.

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