By Cheryl Cumings
How things have changed over the years. I remember when people scoffed at the idea of celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. No one denied that his actions had changed America, but there was skepticism that the changes he brought to the U.S. should be recognized by all Americans. People would argue that of course the civil rights changes he led improved the lives of African-Americans. Of course, his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March on Washington with a thundering call for equality showed what America could become.
As a Black blind kid growing up in Chicago, attending a predominantly white school, I too didn’t think America would ever recognize Martin Luther King. Yet, after 15 years of advocacy and marches, in November 1983, President Reagan signed legislation making the third Monday of January Martin Luther King Day. It took another 17 years for the federal holiday to be recognized in all 50 states.
Over the years, as part of our celebration of the day, a friend and I have attended a breakfast held by a local African-American church. At those ceremonies, the day begins with a rousing celebration of the accomplishments of Martin Luther King and a galvanizing message to continue his work. Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is further celebrated as a day of service. I am heartened that even though it took the United States a very long time to honor Martin Luther King, we now have a day that reminds us of his life and principles and embodies his commitment to service for all.