Celebrating Martin Luther King

This is a slightly revised version of a column I wrote several years ago that was published in the Ventura County Star. I think it’s worthy of revisiting this MLK weekend.

For many years, I considered Martin Luther King, Jr., to be a hero–for somebody else.

Yes, I admired him and what he did, and I believed that he should be remembered and honored for how his work improved and changed the future of the country. But only in recent years have I begun to understand how King and the civil rights movement have made my life as an Anglo woman richer and fuller than would have been possible in the segregated, separated society I was born into.

From preschool through college, in various workplaces, at church, in my neighborhood, and in virtually every walk of life, I have been blessed by acquaintances, co-workers and friends I might never have met if not for Dr. King. And there are many people I will probably never meet but who have enriched my life nevertheless. If not for King, would I ever had the pleasure of watching Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant play basketball? Or heard James Earl Jones’ incomparable voice? Would I have been challenged by the literature of Toni Morrison or Richard Wright? Would I have had the chance to watch Oprah Winfrey connect with people of all races?

A few years ago, I found myself mesmerized at a performance by Maya Angelou. And while listening to her spellbinding stories and poems, I realized how much I would have missed if only African American audiences had been given the chance to see her, to hear her, to read her works. How grateful I am that white people no longer have to pretend that only other white people have anything worthy to offer.

I know that my life is richer and fuller today because King helped our country to stop seeing only in black and white. In the more than forty years since his death, America has begun to see in the colors of the rainbow, to celebrate our differences and our similarities, to learn from each other and to appreciate each other.

And for the blessings his life and work have added to my life and work, I celebrate Martin Luther King as a hero–my hero.

January 15, 2011

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