by Chevon Saftern, Special Tree Oakland/Macomb Residential Community Nurse
Of all the holidays of the year, the one which I look forward to with child-like zeal and excitement is Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK Jr.) Day. Each year, I chose to celebrate this day in a way that I feel best continues the legacy and work which Dr. King began; by participating in community service to others.
I was inspired to begin this tradition nearly twelve years ago when speaking with my grandmother, who was has lived all of her life in a, still very segregated, rural Georgia town. As my grandmother and I spoke of how quickly times and opportunities for my generation have changed, her eyes welled with tears. “You are the first generation in our family who has never known what it is like to be a second class citizen,” she said. Her words leveled me to tears. I began to reflect upon my grandmother’s stories of how dangerous and terrifying it was to live through the Civil Rights Era. How, while marching the streets for equality, one was forced to take assessment of the risks involved. She experienced the local mailman, the local grocer, and even her former employer standing among the crowd, hurling death threats and bricks at her. Many people lost their jobs, had their homes terrorized, and were even killed for involvement in, what was viewed as: “a threat to the order of society." My grandmother and my father were raised in this environment and knew it very well. There are many martyrs of the movement whose names and faces will forever remain anonymous to collective consciousness of America. I want to make sure that their legacy, my grandmother’s legacy, and the legacy of Dr. King live on.
Dr. King’s true legacy consists of far more than tidy, sanitized sound bites about “having a dream” or “going to the mountaintop.”He was an advocate for equality for all American citizens, a pacifist who stood in opposition to the Vietnam War, an advocate for fair employment practices, and a champion for issues concerning the poor. At the time of his death, he was actively organizing a rally in Washington D.C. to highlight the issues facing the impoverished of all races (the rally was carried out shortly after his murder). MLK Jr. understood the value of every human life and was a staunch advocate of being of service to others. Whether feeding the less fortunate, holding a clothing drive for the homeless, or just visiting a person who is sick or shut-in; I believe that, in being of service to others on MLK Jr. Day, I am TRULY honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr Ph.D.