Why do we Celebrate MLK Day?


Alexander Aboutaam

Poly alum Jeanine Liburd spoke to Poly students in assembly on Friday, January 12.

Shania Smith, Contributing Writer

Why do we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? It’s an honest question, a question guest speaker and Poly alum Jeanine Liburd addressed during Poly’s annual MLK Assembly. She was warmly introduced by our head of student diversity, Josina Reaves, who also opened the assembly with the same question. So, why do we celebrate Dr. King?

In the wise words of Reaves, at Poly, we celebrate MLK Day annually because he represents the principles we hope to embody when we enter Poly’s gates. After all, the primary aim for this institution is to “prepare and inspire the next diverse generation of leaders and global citizens to act with intelligence, imagination and—above all—character”, an objective that would indisputably be difficult to attain had it not been for the service and commanding efforts of those who pioneered the Civil Rights Movement 55 years ago.

When Jeanine Liburd took the stage on Friday, January 12, she urged students to think about the narrative we are formulating here at Poly. She asked, “Have you ever thought about what it is you stand for? What narrative you are creating here at Poly?” Then, she projected a series of pictures of various Civil Rights activists, many of whom I and many of my peers admitted to never hearing about. The pictures included those of Freedom Schools for Children founder Dorothy Height, founder of the SNCC (Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee) Diane Nash, executive director of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) Andrew Young, and many others. She acknowledged these individuals for having the determination and grit to stand up for what they believed, to stand up for democracy and equality in the face of national discrimination. Her recognition of these individuals represents a greater idea: although society has decided that MLK epitomizes the best of all of us, he was just one representation of many. Emphasizing that the day should actually serve to celebrate all of these great activists, her presentation also served as a brief reminder that perhaps I need to expand my knowledge on the movement and its historical relevance.

That still doesn’t quite answer why we celebrate MLK Day, does it? Perhaps we celebrate MLK day to have this conversation, to maintain historical perspective, to be able to unite and reflect, serving as a reminder of a tragic past and a hopeful future. It’s good to have days to reflect so that we don’t get lulled in a sense of complacency, reminding us that there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. We still have to be vigilant about the world we live in. Indeed, Martin Luther King offered us a vision of an inclusive future for all in this country.  It is an unfortunate yet sobering that his day would be besmirched by the divisive and insensitive comment made by President Donald Trump regarding Haitian and African countries. Clearly, a day that offers us reflection can also offer us the opportunity to get politically and socially involved in effecting change. Certainly, King’s poignant words and commentary resonates with us today: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”