Many of our American holidays can be quite familiar to Armenians. For instance, while we might celebrate Christmas on different days, Armenians and Americans enjoy some similar traditions, from Santa Claus or “Dzmer Pap” to festive Christmas décor, trees, lighting, and music. But every January, after our Christmas trees have been taken down and the New Year’s confetti finally cleaned up, we celebrate a uniquely American holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, or MLK Day, is dedicated to the life and legacy of one of the American Civil Rights movement’s most renowned leaders. Dr. King’s powerful refrain, “I have a dream,” from his August 28, 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a watershed moment for the civil rights movement. Nearly a year later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, landmark legislation ending segregation and guaranteeing equal treatment to all Americans, regardless of race. And even now, more than fifty years later, King’s voice and message are a tremendous source of inspiration for me.
Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violent resistance resonated globally. His commitment to the pursuit of equality for African Americans through peaceful means reverberated around the world, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
In 1986, as then-President Reagan stated in a proclamation announcing MLK Day as a federal holiday:
“Dr. King’s was truly a prophetic voice that reached out over the chasms of hostility, prejudice, ignorance, and fear to touch the conscience of America. He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.”
Thus, on the third Monday of January, Americans honor the legacy of Dr. King and his contributions to the Civil Rights movement by participating in acts of service in their communities. Many also visit the statue commemorating Dr. King on the National Mall in Washington DC or read his writings, including the Letter from Birmingham Jail, an open letter defending non-violence written while Dr. King was in prison, and the Nobel Peace Prize winning book Why We Can’t Wait.
In short, each year we take time to commemorate Dr. King’s fight for the ideals upon which the United States was founded – freedom, justice, and equality for all. As we celebrate those principles, I leave you with Dr. King’s own words:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”