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Martin Luther King Day explained for international students

Since 1983, every third Monday of January has been used to remember a legend through parades, festivals and celebrations across the US. Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

This weekend, on Martin Luther King Day, people all over the world — but mostly the US — will once again remember the lasting legacy of a leader, activist and visionary. In his years, Martin Luther King ended the legal segregation of African Americans in the US, he rose to national prominence and promoted non-violent tactics as the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he traversed the world on a quest for freedom for all, and he advocated for education as a key component for equality. 

To celebrate Martin Luther King Day is to celebrate the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. It is celebrated to remember the importance of being brave by honouring an activist who endured threats on a daily basis and was put behind bars 29 times to secure freedom for others. It is a day many use to support those in need by volunteering in shelters, hospitals, prisons and lifting up communities in his name. Some even plant trees to symbolise the growth he inspired.

“Every so often, I re-read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” shared President Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Day last year via Twitter. “While some of the injustices may have changed, his poetic brilliance, moral clarity, and tests of conscience still reverberate today. Take a moment to reflect on his righteous call.”

The US has come a long way since King’s days. The country has made tremendous progress in terms of civil rights. Maintaining his efforts today are American educational institutions, who actively make it a point to promote equality, diversity and inclusion on campus grounds. 

Dr. King understood the important role education would one day play in advancing the realities of minorities and eliminating societal prejudices. He also understood the importance of academic excellence. In fact, he understood it early on. 

In 1947, while a student at Morehouse College, Dr. King wrote an article for his campus newspaper where he said “It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.”

Dr. King began his own journey in achieving academic excellence at the tender age of 15. After his time at Morehouse College, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, while also studying at the University of Pennsylvania. At Crozer, he was already exhibiting signs of a leader, becoming the first African American student body president and eventually graduating at the top of his class. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in Theology from Boston University in 1955.

Dr. King spent 13 years of his life advocating for social justice before being assassinated on Apr. 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Although he is no longer with us, his teachings live on for students in the battle for educational equality, a battle the world has not yet won, but will eventually if individuals continue to remember his actions and ponder their own. 

Instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1982, Martin Luther King Day is held on the third Monday of January every year, to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and his impact on the world. To pause in remembrance of a civil rights hero, tune in to these virtual events:

Justice & Hope: The MLK2021 Virtual Celebration – Jan. 11-18 

Where Do We Go From Here? MLK Documentary Film Festival – Jan. 15-18

Journey to Becoming an Anti-Racist Family – Jan. 16, 23 & 30

Freedom Quilters of Gee Bend – Jan. 16

Songwriting 101: MLK Day – Jan. 16

2021 MLK Tribute – Jan. 17

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & the Civil Right Movement – Jan. 18

Brooklyn Tribute to Martin Luther King – Jan. 18

MLK Day Celebration 2021 – Jan. 18

Celebrate Martin Luther King Day – Jan. 18

Celebrate MLK Day with MoAD – Jan. 18

Becoming Brave: A Tribute to MLK – Jan. 18

MLK Day Virtual Community Celebration – Jan. 18

Tacoma’s MLK Day Celebration – Jan. 18

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