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We can still learn a lot from Dr. King

Lee Westrum, Superintendent, WDC Schools

On Monday, Jan. 20, Wadena-Deer Creek students will have the day off from school as our nation celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King's life is commemorated with a national holiday because his accomplishments as leader of the American Civil Rights movement changed the course of American history.

Before I became a superintendent, I was a history teacher and every year I spent many weeks teaching my sophomores about the Civil Rights movement and the monumental impact that Dr. King had on our nation and the world. Many of my students initially thought that Dr. King's legacy was only significant for African-Americans because most of his efforts were concentrated on securing basic civil rights for black Americans. And while that was true, Dr. King also campaigned against poverty and the war in Vietnam, issues that impacted Americans of all races. What I stressed to my students was that Dr. King fought against injustice; it didn't matter to him if the injustice was against someone who was black or white, what mattered to him was whether it was right or wrong.

Part of King's philosophy came from another great fighter of social injustice, India's Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. King studied Gandhi, particularly Gandhi's commitment to nonviolent resistance. In turn, Dr. King led the American Civil Rights movement using nonviolent resistance and ultimately, segregation was outlawed across the south by the historic passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Tragically, Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. King knew that there was a strong possibility that he would die at the hands of an assassin, as death threats were commonplace for him, and other civil rights leaders had been murdered in the south for their stance against segregation. Yet he continued to speak out against racism and for the causes that he believed in even though he was endangering his own life by doing so.

So, as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., remember that what he stood for stands the test of time and still applies today. Of course his strong stance against racism and prejudice is never to be forgotten, and while huge strides have been made by our society, we must continue to be vigilant. Dr. King stood up for what he believed in and his belief that you could overcome hardship through commitment and perseverance is timeless. Also, in a world today where all too often people turn to violence to resolve their differences small or large, individual or international, we should take a lesson from King and genuinely commit to non-violence. That, without question, would make the world a better place.

We can still learn a lot from Dr. King.