This Monday, Jan. 21, is MLK Day. What does that mean to you? Well, it should mean much more than just an extra day at the house or seeing an overabundance of commercials that feature the likeness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The day should be much more than just hearing the phrase, "I Have a Dream," played over and over again on television. It should even mean more than just the commemoration of Dr. King's birthday.
To some of us – and I'm thinking our younger generation here – Dr. King is only seen as a mythical figure who eons ago fought battles that no longer exist in our world.
To others of us, he is simply known as someone who gave a memorable speech that we only hear snippets of this time of year.
Even to some in my generation, he is only a man whose face graced the front of church fans or that calendar that was tacked prominently to your grandmother's wall during your childhood. Although Dr. King's birthday has been a national holiday since 1986, many of us still don't realize who this man was or the impact of his life's work.
He was a man, a son, a father and a husband. He was also a man who wanted to see a world where his children would be judged by the "content of their character" instead of the "color of their skin."
He was a man who didn't just want a better world for his wife and children to live in, but also one for you and me. He dedicated his life to fulfilling the purpose placed upon him. That purpose was fighting for something that even our country's forefathers believed when they wrote the Declaration of Independence – "that all men are created equal."
And he ultimately sacrificed that very life on April 4, 1968.
We, as African-Americans, have come a long way, yet we are not very far removed from the struggles of our ancestors. Many of us fail to realize that it was only a few short years ago when we as a race of people were simply not allowed the same basic civil rights as our white counterparts. We were forced to sit in the back of the bus. We were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains or sit at the same lunch counters as other races.
Today, we can dine where we please. We are no longer forced to the back of the bus. We can send our children to any school where our resources allow. We have rights that our grandparents and great-grandparents could only dream of.
But have we arrived? Do we stop dreaming? Do we stop working? Do we stop fighting for what's right?
No! We keep dreaming, we keep working and we keep fighting! Many battles have been fought, but the war is far from over. We do, however, have an advantage. We have been given the "battle plans" and they have been proven their merit. We just have to use them.
For some of us, the holiday is a time to give back and serve the community. For some, it might be a chance to learn something deeper about "The Movement" that they spent so much of their lives hearing and reading about. And no doubt some value it mostly as a chance to stay home from work, sleep late and/or take care of some much-needed chores.
For me, it's an opportunity to "educate" myself about Dr. King, his life's work and his legacy. It's a chance to reflect upon where we are as a race of people and where we have been. It's also a chance for me to look at myself as a person and evaluate my own life's work...as well as my legacy.
Whatever you choose to do, you should never forget the sacrifices that were made for you to be able to do those things.
And if it was important enough for someone to give his/her life for our right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the least we could do is pay it forward.