On Monday, January 15, our nation will celebrate a federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As we all know, Dr. King was a Baptist minister whose efforts created monumental changes to our nation through the Civil Rights movement. Sadly, Dr. King’s work was cut short when he was felled by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968.
I once heard it said that we have two things for which we are not responsible: the day we are born and the day we die. Our gravestones will be marked with a dash between those two dates, indicating the time we spent living. While we aren’t responsible for the days we were granted to enter into and exit from this world, we are responsible for how we spent our time in between. Dr. King forged remarkable accomplishments within his ‘dash,’ for which the world is forever grateful. In my view, Martin Luther King Jr. is a true hero. He was somebody who was called to the ministry to teach, preach, and lead a congregation. By all accounts was an exceptional minister who touched many lives, and that alone would have made him an exceptional man. However, Dr. King answered to an even higher calling far beyond the wonderful things he was able to achieve through his ministry. Those greater things centered on revolutionary social justice work of the highest order that led to the end of segregation in our country.
As we look back today, it is hard to understand that there was once stiff opposition to making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. In fact it is likely a sign of how far we have come in this country that the legacy of Dr. King is now forever rooted in our memories and history. It is not just the determined cadence of his voice as he delivered his iconic, “I Have a Dream” speech that lives on, but the fruits of his labor that resulted in the equality that we take for granted today. Many of the words spoken by Dr. King have become emblematic of an all-inclusive society. Dr. King did indeed change the world.
In thinking about Dr. King, I am also reminded of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court and a Civil Rights activist whose work touched us right here in Rockland County. Just over 80 years ago, the desegregation of the Hillburn schools was completed with the closing of the Brook School in Hillburn, New York. This largely occurred because of the unity of the people and the efforts of a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall. He came to Rockland on behalf of the NAACP and argued vociferously for an end to separate and unequal schools eleven years before Brown v. the Board of Education. Marshall argued that the Brook School, which served only African Americans, should be closed because the conditions were substandard compared to the newer Hillburn schools that had been constructed. Moreover, there was sufficient space to teach all the students together and thanks to the efforts of Marshall, the Commissioner agreed and integrated the schools. Many days, I find myself walking in New City and pass by the statue near the county courthouse honoring Thurgood Marshall. It serves as a reminder that this great man walked among us and fought legal battles here, which helped bring equality to the classroom.
Fittingly, in 1994, MLK Day was officially declared as the only national holiday designated as a national day of service. So while you may have the day off from work, you are encouraged to make it a day ‘on’ by doing volunteer work of some kind to benefit our community. From food pantries to veterans organizations to groups that work with the disabled, Clarkstown is home to a wide variety of charitable organizations where you can give back. In addition to my usual volunteer work, I will be attending several ceremonies marking the day with pride on just how far our country has come thanks to the efforts of Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others.