Tyler Middlestadt

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in recent memory and Black History Month just a week away, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to one of America’s finest and most influential leaders, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King began his civil rights legacy upon agreeing to host the Montgomery Bus Boycott meetings at his own church following the infamous arrest of the late Rosa Parks.

Unbeknownst to him, from that point on, Dr. King would be exalted to the throne of equality, serving as the voice of the non-violent struggle of the black man in America, the moral conscience of our nation.

But while he began as an integrationist, preaching the injustice of segregation and unconscionable treatment of African-Americans, in his later years he began fighting for economic equality and an end to the war in Vietnam.

Dr. King believed that poverty was at the root of countless social ills that plagued our society. It was, to him, the largest stumbling block keeping people from fighting for their own basic rights.

He also believed, as he argued once in a speech, that, “If our nation can spend $35 billion a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.”

Today, our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing United States taxpayers an average of $5 billion each month while nearly 13 percent of our population lives below the poverty line.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how relevant his vision for a better world remains even today. If Dr. King were alive today, I speculate his sermons would be hauntingly similar, and his calls to action just as urgent.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t afforded the luxury of having disciples to carry on his message as Socrates had Plato and Aristotle, Jesus had Peter and Paul and Gandhi had Dr. King.

It is on our shoulders that his legacy rests, and it is our action or inaction that will determine the fate of his dream.

Americans are masters of romanticizing history only to remember the parts we choose. As the students of life in a new generation, myself included, we are often guilty of trivializing the struggles of the past, believing them only to be relics of a forgotten time, denying that they continue to affect our lives today.

But now, more than ever, in honor of this great man and his life’s work, we must reflect on the state of our world today. If this is not the world for which you have hoped nor the future you envision for your children, remember these words of Dr. King:

“Let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

Thank you, Dr. King, for believing in us, and in our future.

Tylor Middlestadt is the ASI President and Mustang Daily columnist who believes we can achieve the vision of Dr. King. He can be reached at tmiddles@calpoly.edu; 756.5828; AIM: CPASI President

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