On Monday, January 17th, Americans nationwide will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Aside from honoring Dr. King’s birthday, MLK Day helps us remember the overwhelming impact the scholar, minister, and civil rights leader had on race relations in America and hopes to inspire us to serve our communities in the same way.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his life to the fight against racism and segregation in the Deep South. He was pivotal to the creation and enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For his work, Dr. King was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 before delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 – five years before his untimely death in 1968.
By now, you’ve surely spent plenty of time learning about MLK and his significance to American history. But, have you ever stopped to think about how his teachings can apply to your life? If you ask us, everyone can learn a thing or two from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So, just in time for MLK Day, Woodbridge Senior Living presents three takeaways from Dr. King’s life and legacy that you can benefit from! In fact, we believe that they are especially applicable to seniors just like you.
The importance of education.
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Back in the 1920s, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, Black people did not have nearly as many educational opportunities as their white counterparts. The Segregation Era was in full effect, and even though Jim Crow laws varied by state, an overwhelming majority of schools did not allow Black students to use the same restrooms as white students, let alone join them in the classroom. And, with the exception of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), many colleges in affected states disqualified or limited enrollment for Black students. This made getting a quality education very difficult for minorities and other marginalized identities.
Now that approximately 70 percent of high school graduates enter college, it can be easy to forget that many communities weren’t able to pursue higher education until the mid-1950s. At Woodbridge Senior Living we encourage a life of learning. This doesn't have to mean perusing a degree in higher education, it can be learning a new skill, auditing a college course, watching a documentary, taking an online art class or brushing up on your geometry to help tutor local students.
The rewards that come with perseverance.
“If you can’t fly then run; if you can’t run then walk; if you can’t walk then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy is marked by a string of high-profile achievements, like his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, his open Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and his participation in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Many of these successes, however, came after years of repeated interactions with a hostile, racist public, who did everything in their power to maintain segregation’s stronghold over the Southern United States. In fact, MLK’s activism led him to be arrested an incredible 29 times. His family home was bombed by segregationists in 1956, and he was the victim of a near-fatal assassination attempt ten years prior to the one successfully executed by James Earl Ray in 1968.
While transitioning to senior living or facing challenges that come with aging, you may encounter situations that make you consider backing away from senior living altogether – like a few bad days or a rocky relationship with a fellow resident. But, when the going got tough for Dr. King, he stayed the course, never surrendering his ultimate goal of dismantling racist systems of oppression. Sure, your current daily schedule might not involve organizing protests alongside hundreds of other people or battling an unjust legal system, but Dr. King’s message should remain clear to everyone, no matter the context of your situation: stay true to your beliefs and keep moving forward – despite what obstacles lie in your way – and one day, you’ll find success. Start a gratitude journal, focus on things you can control, embrace the social network that comes with senior living.
The value of serving others.
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was passionate about serving the community. As the son and grandson of two well-known Atlanta ministers, Dr. King grew up in an environment that prioritized serving one’s neighbors over one’s self, strictly forbade class superiority, and enforced the idea that all people could serve their community – regardless of their education or privilege. Once an adult, Dr. King translated his experiences within the church and the teachings that he received there into a lifelong devotion to civil rights. He worked tirelessly to motivate others to join his efforts, which he considered to be an act of service to the American people.
Dr. King believed that service could act as a catalyst for improved communities and, eventually, a changed world. But, as long as there are still communities in need, Dr. King’s work is not done. So, ask yourself: how can you use your talents to carry on MLK’s legacy? Whether it’s volunteering for a worthy cause, walking alongside a friend who’s struggling, or standing up for what’s right when no one else will, there are plenty of ways a senior like yourself can get involved and use your voice for positive change. Plus, aside from the pure joy you’ll feel from giving back to your community, you can bet that your philanthropic efforts will make a great impact on those you touch.