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Reflections on a King – One Woman’s View of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

It’s early January 2007, and I’m here, comfortably ensconced in my home in Moab, Utah. It’s actually a second home. I live in Aspen, CO the rest of the year, but the place in Aspen is tiny and “lovely”, while this place in Moab is big and sprawling in comparison. It’s a real home, with a two-car garage, a great little backyard with a therapeutic hot tub, and an amazing gas grill. It’s on a corner lot, in a cute little neighborhood.

As our nation enters the year 2007, and the month of January rushes into recent history, I am watching. My holiday vacation is ending too quickly, so I glance at my calendar, hoping to see another respite from the daily grind in the near future. I can not help myself. It’s in my nature not to want my little piece of paradise to end. I click in my Outlook during January weekends…I seem to remember a three day weekend here somewhere…isn’t there a public holiday? I think, as I finally arrive the second weekend of January. Ah…. That’s it! I see I have listed that my son has a three day weekend from Saturday the 13th. But surely there must be a holiday involved? What is that? I think, as I click on Monday. Ah! Martin Luther King Jr Day! I knew there had to be a reason! I say to myself with a smile, proud of my diligence.

The day wore on, however, and that hint of unease constantly tugged at my consciousness. During my day, I couldn’t really identify what it was. Maybe as every white woman reaches a certain age (over thirty, that is), she begins to remember all the wonderful nuggets of gold she learned when she was a girl in parochial school (okay, this part is just for me). Or could it be that as I begin to approach the last third of my life, the part beyond my “after thirty” (I’ve always divided it like this: before thirty, after thirty. ..and beyond… .), that I have become more responsibly thoughtful? Maybe I’m just more willing to allow information into my mind’s database that I consider “important and factual”? There was no denying it, though. This tug to what lurks beneath my conscious mind would not rest.

It wasn’t until I finally stopped short, cooking up a delicious pepper steak, served with shallot sauce and grilled zucchini, that I realized what it was. I was ashamed ! As the sauce dripped from the spoon and I stared into space, I was ashamed not only that I didn’t know it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that second weekend in January, but in truth , I really knew very little about the man, and the reason why there was a day in his honor at all. Oh sure, I knew he was a great leader in the early stages of our country’s civil rights movement. I knew he was a beloved, revered, and honored leader among whites and African Americans who was senselessly and brutally murdered. But that was all I knew.

One could excuse my ignorance and absolve me of guilt for simply being a victim of circumstance: I am a white female, born in New Mexico (a predominantly Hispanic, Native American, and Caucasian state), and I was raised in a culturally protected environment.

Like all good school kids my age, I learned all the basics from Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m sure I was taught some of the in-depth facts, but somehow they had escaped me.

I sat down at my computer and did a brief search on this man I knew little about. I learned that Martin Luther King was a highly educated man (he earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate, and later also became the recipient of several honorary degrees). There I was, a kid in a private school (one of the best around right now), raised without the prejudices that many face every day, and a college degree had been reduced to the status of a “long-sought goal”, which called me from the distant caves of my soul.

This man, aged 35, became the youngest recipient at the time of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was not a man of great means, so I’m sure the fifty thousand plus dollar prize money would have eased the burden, if not just helped cushion things a bit while raising his family, but Mr. King chose to turn his prize money to advancing the civil rights movement.

Not only was he well-educated and extremely accomplished, but he was a determined man who truly lived what he believed in and spoke about.

So as I sit here in my home in Moab ready to serve pepper steak and zucchini, I realize the irony of my thoughts about Martin Luther King, Jr. versus the reality of my existence. It would be easy to pass judgment and think Who is this white chick, with her privileged life, thinking she can now identify with the civil rights cause? But it is not necessary. I am aware that many of those whom Dr. King worked hard to free were poor and broken. They knew nothing of the benefits granted to someone like me and my protected and parochial school life. Yet even though Dr. King fought in the trenches against injustices to his fellow human beings, he also flew with eagles. He respected men and women equally, whether they were rich or poor, educated or not. It would be more obvious for me, in my “privileged” situation, not to write about this great man. It’s far better that I pay homage to him, regardless of my social status or my level of ignorance of civil rights.

I’m not one to ponder or spend precious time pondering the reasons for our nation’s holidays, but in the case of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m acutely aware of the enrichment of my mind and my conscience doing so. I will forever honor and revere the man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who overcame all odds to accomplish great things on behalf of his people and his race.

Aside from our nation’s continued pursuit of civil rights among all Americans, there is no other statement that could capture the greatness of the man, validating all that he stood for, than to name a holiday national for him. I am proud of my nation and my government for recognizing and choosing to honor a man of unparalleled integrity, courage and determination.

Copyright (c) 2007 Lisa Jey Davis

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