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Letter: What Martin Luther King Day Means to Me

Martin Luther King is a national hero on the scale of a George Washington or Thomas Edison in that he changed what seemed to be impossible to change. He galvanized the nation to a cause of injustice. He stood up to oppression in the same way that Jesus stood up to it by saying no and refusing to comply. Without attack, aggression or violence he refused to participate and committed to forging a new way. He said you can take my life but you cannot change me. That, in itself, is a commendable characteristic but we honor him because he was successful.

The first march on Washington proved to our capital that things needed to be changed to reflect the growing educated constituency. Subsequent marches were little more than pomp and fanfare. We constantly want things to change for the better but they seldom do. Dr. Martin Luther King opened the door and now we all continue to walk through it.

Dr. King said that we should judge a man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin. I think so many people on all sides get that wrong. We all know it means you should not prejudge (prejudice) against someone to deny them something they deserve, but it also means you should not just give somebody something they have not earned. We need to be fair to all. I know in my heart Dr. King did not fight for blacks to be superior to whites but for all people to have opportunity and respect. Everyone deserves respect and everyone deserves opportunity.

I honor Dr. King as a white guy because he brought our society closer to what it should be and it’s up to us to continue the work. He helped all of us be better. In continuing the work we need to recognize that we can respect our own ethnicity, nationality, religion, social customs, and gender but we will deal with others on their level. To the Jew, I will act like a Jew and to the Gentile I will act like a Gentile and to the vegetarian I will act like a vegetarian to win them over. Win them over with love and gentleness. Love and gentleness in no way implies weakness. To say to someone I will be kind no matter what you do robs the adversary of their power to corrupt.

I understand the dream, to live without race being a factor. I am very happy to go to school in a multi-cultured environment and to work in a multi-cultured environment. However, there is no place on Earth where I see the dream realized so much as in the Church where I am not white, or Italian, I am only a child of God.

Peter LaBarca