What Martin Luther King Jr. Means To Me

Martin Luther King JrI was just barely three years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.  That makes my life one that has really never had a first hands understanding of what his struggle was like.  I have never known a time when there wasn’t such a thing as the Civil Rights Movement.  I have never seen ‘separate but equal’.  I have never seen signs for ‘coloreds’ or ‘whites’.  I have never known a world when I couldn’t have black friends, go to school alongside black schoolmates, or date a black man.

That’s not to say that MLK’s dreams of a day when ‘children will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character’ plays true in every part of our American society, let alone our world.

But what it does say is what Martin Luther King Jr. means to me.

1.  History

With his death, I learned not to let history repeat itself.  I will not live my life allowing others to demean or discriminate based on race, sex, religion, sexual preference or any other criteria.

2.  Family

After MLK Jr. died, his daughter Yolanda began the crusade to keep his legacy alive.  Much of what he stood for revolved around his dreams for his family.  He taught them well – Yolanda’s dream of a national holiday in honor of his father is the reason we celebrate today.

3.  Service

Martin Luther KingMartin Luther King Jr. was a man who served his country.  Not every man or woman serves the same way, for the same reasons.  MLK taught me to work for social justice and to carry that value on to my children, and the children I serve every day in the classroom.

4.  Opportunity

As a white woman I have never experienced racial discrimination.  I can only imagine the incredible frustration and anger one must feel when denied opportunity due to the color of one’s skin.  Because of MLK opportunities were opened for those who never imagined they would.

5.  Wisdom

MLK made people think.  He made people act.  He made people remember him.  He made people wiser.

6.  Education

Before MLK education was not equal.  Black children were held hostage due to lack of equal access to knowledge.  Students were empowered to act and demand the right to the same quality of schooling being given to whites. Now, other underrepresented groups are standing up to be heard.

7.  Hope

Martin Luther King showed the world that if you dream it, you can become it.  He provided hope for minorities, women, men and children who knew that they could be better, could do better, could live better than they were.

Martin Luther King Jr MemorialSo today, as we honor a man who truly inspired a nation and influenced generations to come, please pause and think of what Martin Luther King Jr. means to you.  Give thanks for his life and vision and lessons of peaceful protest.  And, if you can, try to imagine what our world would be like had he never held fast to his dreams.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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  1. Hello! I’m following you from VoiceBoks! I’m following you through GFC, Pinterest, Networked Blogs, and Google+.

    I hope you’re having a good week!


  2. I was 16 when MLK was assassinated. Our American History teacher, Miss Harmon, brought a tv into the classroom, and we watched history in action.
    This was unusual for many reasons:
    *Our community was a midwest rural farming white community. Many of us had never even seen a black person.
    *All the events involving MLK we saw only on evening news with Walter Kronkite.
    *Miss Harmon was a brave woman.

    The classroom was dead-silent. All the would-be hecklers were silent. Some of us cried. There was something surreal about seeing something so removed from our farm lives.

    I will never forget that day.

    1. Hi Susan,
      Wow, what a powerful memory. Brave is putting it mildly! She was a hero-to know the importance of sharing that moment with her students, even when it seemed so removed from your everyday life…what a gift she gave you. No wonder you remember it!

  3. Great tribute! I remember learning so much about him in school, but since being an adult, I haven’t really reflected on his life much. This is wonderful!

  4. —What a beautiful dream Dr. King had…I wonder what he’d think about our country now?

    Much has changed, but Sooo much more must be done.

    I always love your posts. thank you. Xx

    1. That is a big question, my dear. But what else would come from such a big thinker like you…I think that we are all not united, but we are finding ways to accept each other the way that we are. We are much more easily able to identify our true selves than we were in the 60s, giving us a new definition of unity.

  5. Dear Jennifer,
    You worked for social justice when you accompanied your students to the soup kitchen last week. And your blog often provokes me into considering how I respond to the life around me. It is in the daily-ness of our response that we walk in MLK’s shoes.

    In the ’50s and ’60s, he was an inspiration to so many people of color–whether they be colored black or white or brown. He continues to be an inspiration. And you have done a fine job in this detailing of how he changed our lives. More work awaits us and we have so little control over what happens. But we can control our response. We can choose how we will respond to injustice. Thank you for reminding me of this.


  6. Thank you for a wonderful post. I often think of the pure courage he and the others who were in the front line of the Civil Rights Movement. I also think that although we have come far, we have so much further to go. We do not live in a country where this is true equality. There is still racial division it is just done more subtly. I would not think of a country where Dr. King’s beautiful words did not exist. Thank you again.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. I love your closing challenge — what would the world be like had he never lived. Perhaps, we should make that a personal challenge as well: What WILL the world be like because you live in it? Maybe we all need to dream a little bigger.

  8. Great post!! MLK is just one of my many inspirations. This man did wonderful work when it came to leadership. Where the word leadership is found in the dictionary, his picture should be right beside it.

  9. What a wonderful tribute to MLK. Said simply and honestly. He was truly an amazing man who gave much to our country. Thank you for honoring him with this great post!

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