Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: A Community Message | New England College

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: A Community Message

January 12, 2024
Photo of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.


Today, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And what a legacy it remains. Dr. King was a man of hope, peace, and earnest love for his fellow citizens from all walks of life. His life was spent seeking fulfillment of the promises made by the founders and their successors in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, that all men (and women) are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. In short, Dr. King’s work was founded on ensuring that America’s promise extended to every citizen regardless of their background. His work endures, as do the challenges we continue to face as a country. Certainly, there is much more we can and must do to build on his legacy.

When I was in college, I remember reading Dr. King’s A Letter from a Birmingham Jail as part of a civil rights course I was taking. The backstory was interesting to me then and remains so now. Dr. King was in jail for leading nonviolent civil rights demonstrations in Alabama in 1963. While in jail, he received word from supporters questioning why he would put himself and the movement in danger by going to Birmingham, Alabama, when local officials threatened him with arrest or worse. His letter was his response—a way to articulate why he was there. What stuck with me from all the rich text was one line of his response, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” The courage of Dr. King’s convictions was summed up in one pithy line written from a jail cell in response to criticisms of his approach to leadership. Would that we all had that sort of presence of mind.

Dr. King’s words stuck with me over the years, and while in my life, the context is quite different—I think of them often when faced with a difficult decision or having to take on a particularly tough challenge. We go where we are needed. We work hard to do the right thing, even in the face of criticism. And we dedicate ourselves to lives in service and support of others. Again, Dr. King’s words are far better than my own. In 1957, speaking in Montgomery, Alabama, he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” I could not agree more.

I hope you take some time on January 15 in honor of Dr. King to reflect on his legacy and selfless service to others so that we all might be free.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Dr. Wayne F. Lesperance, Jr.
New England College

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