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Why This MLK Day Is Different from All Other MLK Days

Why This MLK Day Is Different from All Other MLK Days

Every year, on the third Monday of January, our country celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day by reflecting on his legacy and enjoying a day off from work. We take this time to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King and the impact he had on our nation’s fight for civil rights.

Dr. King was committed to making America and our world one of freedom and justice for all, and sought to mend injustices through nonviolent resistance. He said:

“We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.”

His message was important 50 years ago, and remains important today as we witness and partake in protests across the country that have erupted since the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014.

And for me personally, MLK day feels different this year. It is different because I feel that now, more than ever, our country is re-engaging in a conversation about race and inequality, and understanding that we are still fighting Dr. King’s fight. It is different because for the first time in my life, I am fortunate enough to be fighting for justice as my full-time job during my year as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and it is also different because in October, I was fortunate enough to visit Dr. King’s childhood home and church in Atlanta during the fall meeting of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

Walking through Dr. King’s home provided me with an entirely new perspective. For so long, to me, Dr. King had been a famous historical figure – a champion for justice, a brilliant speaker, an inspiring leader – but it wasn’t until I walked through his home, that I truly realized he was also a human being. He was a son, a father, a brother, a pastor, a citizen and a friend. In Atlanta, we also visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which teaches about the civil rights movement in the most moving way I have ever experienced. One of the rooms in the museum solely plays the video from Dr. King’s funeral while you listen to the words of his last sermon (which were also played at his funeral).

He tells us:

“I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right and to walk with them… And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.”

So this year, on January 19, I plan to reflect on the life and work of Dr. King and recommit myself to loving and serving humanity - and I sincerely hope you will join me.

Check out the Religious Action Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day resources site for programs, lesson plans, Jewish texts, and Shabbat services related to Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

Claire Shimberg is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Claire graduated in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania, and is originally from Tampa, FL, where she is a member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek.

Claire Shimberg
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