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Jan. 17, 2022
Today we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of history’s most inspiring and influential civil rights leaders. Dr. King’s example of sacrifice, service, and conviction in the face of great injustice reminds us that positive change is possible when we join together, in solidarity.
As I contemplate the intersecting challenges we face today, when COVID has revealed and exacerbated long-standing economic and racial injustices, and when political polarization has strained our democracy at its core, I am heartened by two of Dr. King’s most repeated messages.
The first is reflected in a challenge he posed during a sermon he delivered in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957:
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Why might this be the most “urgent” of questions today? The answer lies in the power of service to lift our very humanity. From the smallest acts of everyday kindness like giving a friend who has had a bad day a call and just listening; to dedicating your life to serving your community as a firefighter, a pastor, a teacher, or a health care worker – service brings us together and disrupts the energy of divisiveness. It strengthens the resolve of our communities and our democracy at every level, allowing us to tackle persistent and evolving challenges, like racism and bigotry.
Nearly 25 million Americans participate in some form of public service to meet critical needs such as education, health care, housing, or national security. Those contributing to the common good make our communities stronger; but in a country of more than 325 million people, just imagine what transformation we could achieve with more of us looking out for one another and answering the call to serve!
This vision of transformation brings me to another of Dr. King’s most famous messages, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” As we contemplate the social discord of our times, it may be easy to lose sight of Dr. King’s optimism. But, it is this optimism that must inform our work together as a university, a community, and a nation, if we are to continue to not only break down barriers to injustice, but to build a stronger foundation for peace.
As we celebrate Rev. King, his passion for social justice and his optimism about the inherent potential for humanity, I encourage you to consider how each of us can reflect the values he stood for in our own lives to advance our communities and strengthen our democracy.
What do you do for others, including those outside of your immediate family or social circle? What do you do for people who don’t look like you, for people with whom you disagree or don’t know?
I am uplifted to see so many Roadrunners living out his vision as active agents of positive change; working to build a community with a shared sense of belonging and equity. Thank you for your commitment to a better world and for your everyday efforts to harness the strength of Dr. King’s legacy.
We may live in precarious times—but the commotion is evidence of change, marking the demise of hurtful injustices. Ultimately, our ability to come together, beyond our differences, in service of others will create a new and lasting future.
Janine Davidson, Ph.D.
President, MSU Denver