Closer to the Vision of Dr. King

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2003 touched members of the Phillips Academy community in many unique ways. To some people, it represented an opportunity to commemorate the life of a great civil rights leader. To others, it encouraged reflection on African American history and culture. This day promoted group discussions, workshops, and dialogue concerning various issues, ranging from ethnicity to sexuality, and gender to popular culture. The very nature of Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrated even the simplest forms of human interaction – conversations over the dinner table, quick comments in the mailroom, hugs between friends. Simply put, it meant different things to different people. For a day, people saw the world in new light, through a different lens. For a second, the array of faces in Commons seemed even more beautiful, feelings of hope filled the fresh air, and the dark clouds of racism and hatred appeared less daunting. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2003 helped me reflect on the vision of a great man. This man, whose views contemporaries labeled radical, advocated acceptance of diversity and equal treatment of all humans. Although the slightest realization of these views seemed impossible at several points in American history, nowadays such ideas have become a definite reality in our daily lives. Though only decades ago schools were segregated, numerous schools currently exercise affirmative action, demonstrating a preference for diversity as opposed to rigid homogeneity. Yesterday’s resistance towards integration, combined with today’s inescapable diversity, reveals fascinating changes in American society’s worldview. Does this mean that we have finally fulfilled the vision of Martin Luther King Jr.? The celebration forced the Phillips Academy community to confront this difficult question. Current global affairs certainly do not attest to the sincere realization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision. Instead, violence, widespread hunger, threats of war, and cultural exploitation suggest the world’s unwillingness to integrate in an increasingly mobile world. American newspaper headlines very rarely mention devastated, impoverished third-world countries in Central Asia and Africa. Basic educational curricula completely overlook the culture, importance, and sometimes the mere existence of these countries. Even in our own community, many staff members were unfairly required to work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, most notably commons workers. Noting realities such as these, to what extent has America embraced diversity and equality? Revolutions in technology, transportation, and communication have made social, cultural, political, and economic interaction between different communities inevitable. Now, more than ever, this reality has forced people with different values, interests, and origins to live side by side. The stability of the American society depends on the acceptance of this reality, and as a result, schools have been desegregated, people of different races are allowed to sit together on buses, and civil rights have become available to all. Integration became necessary for survival. If integration has become necessary, why does Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision remain unfulfilled? What progress remains to be made? I believe that the acknowledgment and the passive acceptance of diversity are not enough to create true social cohesion. Instead, people must celebrate the inherently pluralistic nature of modern society. Unless diversity is recognized as a positive strength and an invaluable asset, humanity will make no progress in the decades ahead. Phillips Academy exists as a paragon of this idea. Rather than devoting a brief all-school meeting to Martin Luther King Jr., our school sets aside an entire day in his honor. Phillips Academy’s phrase “Youth from Every Quarter” demonstrates our community’s belief that diversity cultivates wisdom, strength, and knowledge. Hopefully, our celebration of the day will forever resonate in our hearts and minds, making humanity one step closer to fulfilling the vision of Martin Luther King Jr.