Why We Celebrate Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King (MLK) Day is a national holiday in the United States that celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister and a prominent leader in the civil rights movement. Many people are encouraged to take this day and reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change advocated for by Dr. King. MLK Day was established as a federal holiday in 1983 and observed nationwide for the first time in 1986.

Dr. King grew in influence during a bus boycott in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, and famously led the March on Washington in 1963. He is widely considered one of the most influential figures in the African American civil rights movement (people in the history of our country), winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964—he was, at that time, the youngest person to have ever won the award. He also helped to pass several civil rights legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

In 1963, Dr. King recited one of the most important speeches in the history of our country, famously coined the “I Have a Dream” speech. He delivered this speech to more than 250,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. Dr. King was not satisfied with the injustices and suffering his fellow Black Americans faced. But he shared: “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. . . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

This wasn’t just his dream for his children; this was his dream of equality for all. That the most important thing about a person would be who they are, not what they look like.

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at the young age of 39, yet still today his message and his work to end racial segregation through nonviolence echoes throughout our country. 

MLK Day provides each of us the opportunity to educate ourselves on the history of civil rights in our country as well as the current social justice issues of today. One of the most powerful lessons we learn from Dr. King’s life is that young people have the power to make a change in their communities and in our country. MLK Day is an opportunity for our country to celebrate the life and teachings of Dr. King, to educate children on racial injustice, and to remind parents to listen to the voices of young people.

Written by Reggie Hill
Journey Church Young Adult Pastor