Observed annually on the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King Day celebrates the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights leader, Baptist minister and political activist.
Throughout his career, King advocated for social, political and economic justice for African Americans. His movement, rooted in nonviolent resistance and grassroots organizing, helped to achieve historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings and pass federal legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Wynter Mason, a rehabilitation technician at Akron Children’s, says she draws inspiration from King’s message.
“Martin Luther King is all about change,” Wynter said. “One of the mottos I try to live by is to make a change every single day. When I wake up, I want to change someone’s life, even if that’s just making them smile or making them feel heard. We don’t always realize that the smallest things can make a difference for someone.”
King is the only non-president to have a federal holiday dedicated in his honor. Akron Children’s Nurse Practitioner, Julia Golden, says the holiday is a time for self-reflection.
“It’s a time to listen and learn from people of color in our community and nationwide,” said Julia. “As an ally, it is also a time to reflect and set intentions for my own growth and anti-racism work in the coming year. It is important to me to commit to anti-racism and doing the work which requires dedicated time for reflection and a good deal of self-awareness and vulnerability.”
Jennifer Burks, an application solutions analyst at Akron Children’s, is co-lead of the hospital’s Minority Employees and Allies Employee Resource Group (ERG), an employee-led group dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
She says as the mother of four biracial children, she’s eager to share King’s legacy with her kids and keep it a topic of conversation in their home.
“He lived for something bigger than himself,” said Jennifer. “He always saw the big picture and was able to look beyond those obstacles, and that’s inspiring. When my kids were little, I got my hands on every MLK book I could find. We have a lot of open and honest conversations about how we still see some of the same racial disparities today, as well as the advancements. We also talk about how we can make a difference.”
This year marks the 60th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the March on Washington. Wynter says she encourages everyone to watch the speech in its entirety.
“The part that resonates with me is when he says, ‘In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from a cup of bitterness and hatred.’
“When we understand the concept of segregation and how blacks and whites were segregated from water fountains, the imagery of a drink of water is powerful,” said Wynter. “I can hand you a cup of water, and there’s no judgment. There’s no difference. We’re both human beings. To understand that MLK had a dream and vision that we could come together as one with equality – it’s an amazing thing.”
Members of King’s family have urged lawmakers to pass federal voting rights reform, saying there cannot be celebration without legislation. Ohioans can check their voter registration at My Voter Information – Voter Search (ohiosos.gov).
There are also several opportunities to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in the Greater Akron area. Find event details in the Akron Beacon Journal.