Throughout February the Democrats will present an ongoing blog series celebrating African American heroes, both past and present. Staffers at the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America have been asked to write about influential African Americans in our country’s history and leaders who continue making contributions today.
Like millions of American children, every year my classmates and I would pause to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hear parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech. One line in particular from Dr. King’s speech always resonated deep in my soul: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Growing up in poverty, I felt like I understood and could empathize with those who have struggled. The words of Dr. King would echo throughout my lifetime. His words encouraged me to dedicate my life in service of humanity.
The full breadth of Dr. King’s legacy hit me during a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum sits on the exact spot Dr. King was assassinated—the Lorraine Motel. He delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech at a Memphis church:
“We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.”
Dr. King was in Memphis to work with a union of black sanitation workers fighting for living wages and better treatment. In his last days, Dr. King organized for social justice and positive change. Dr. King realized that his tireless efforts leading to passage of the Civil Rights Act were not the end of the fight. The struggle for full human equality would only come through wage equality and social justice.
My commitment to making the world a better place began in earnest while working for Organizing for America in Florida during the health care reform campaign. Dr. King knew that equality in health care really was a civil right. “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane,” he said in a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966.
This August, forty-eight years after MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, a monument to Dr. King's legacy will be unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Stone of Hope will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Founding Fathers of the United States. The first monument of an African American man will stand next to former American slave owners. Dr. King’s words illustrate this legacy:
“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”