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As the nation pauses to recognize the 40th installment of the annual federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., a number of racial and social justice leaders are spreading awareness of the civil rights icon’s legacy by urging policymakers to emulate the good reverend doctor while working in their official capacities.

In particular, the areas of racial equity, education, faith and civil service are among the issues these racial and social justice leaders are lifting up in the spirit of Dr. King to encourage those in positions of political power to use their platforms to enact real and necessary change.

Keep reading to see what they had to say.

Phyllis Hill, founder of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative (BSWC)

This is the time of year when a lot of people celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his heroic work. I hope we also continue to work to emulate his remarkable legacy. Dr. King operated from a place of love. While he certainly experienced righteous indignation, he was driven by love. He wisely said, ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.’ As I reflect on Dr. King’s words and example, I’m convinced that the love that is required from us must be exercised on us; we must love ourselves as well as our community. This means those of us who fight for justice must direct the same love that propels our external organizing, to ourselves. Sometimes we must rest and be restored, even if that rest comes on the day set aside to honor Dr. King. This is completely acceptable and necessary. In other words, to do the type of deep organizing that is necessary in the pursuit of justice, we must continually root ourselves in love.

Glenn Harris, President of Race Forward

Today we pause and reflect on a true American hero; the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose vision for a multiracial democracy we, at Race Forward, strive to achieve. As Americans across this country celebrate Dr. King today, we encourage local, state and federal government entities to commit to enacting policies that support racial equity across their agencies. Racial equity is central to a healthy democracy, and each of us has a responsibility to address systemic racism. No one is exempt from this work; not individuals, not corporations, nor government agencies. We must know this and live it today, tomorrow and every day. We each have an opportunity to advance equity.

Prentiss Haney, executive director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative

As the nation celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., many will espouse his principles while celebrating his life,” Haney said. “To truly live into his legacy, elected leaders in states across the country must develop state budgets that prioritize investments in early childhood education. If states are not investing in early childhood education, they are setting families, children and early childhood educators up for failure. They are also contributing to stubborn educational disparities. The same people who celebrate him today need to walk in his footsteps by investing in our state’s most precious resource: children and youth. We don’t need performative celebrations but rather substantive actions that will improve conditions for children and families.

Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida and BSWC member

Dr. King gave his life to teach and preach the gospel. He led by example, fought for social and economic justice, and never turned his back on those who faced discrimination, disenfranchisement, and disrespect. Faith in Florida will continue to represent those same people and those same fights. We will keep the dream alive and ensure that it never becomes a nightmare.

Tameka Greer, executive director of Memphis Artists for Change and BSWC member

Being in the city where Dr. King’s life was taken, I would love to see our community move to a place where we are dedicating consistent service to others. On Monday, Memphis Artists for Change will head to the National Civil Rights Museum to discuss the ways in which we are working to move the dream forward – including fighting for voting rights, safe communities, re-entry programs and programs that improve the plight of our community. We give our lives to service and urge others to join us in our fight to give back to see true change.

Ashley Shelton, CEO of Power Coalition for Equity and Justice

The things Dr. King fought for to ensure all people in America could experience a world free of racial barriers are still the things we are fighting for today. We are continuously building on the foundations of Dr. King and working to ensure his legacy lives on. In a state like Louisiana where change and progress sometimes feel delayed, we must lean on one another and work in coalition to remain strong and ensure we have the most impact in our communities. We all have the same vision for communities of color in the south and together we can get there. 

Jaime Koppel, co-director of Communities for Just Schools Fund

We’ll be in Mississippi all next week to interrogate history via a learning and unlearning tour through the state. We affirm Dr. King’s assertion that ‘the function of true education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.’ It is important in this moment that we come together in the community to do things that may feel hard. There are so many challenges with regard to education, and that’s because many places and spaces of education are not doing what Dr. King called us to do.


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