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An Example of Courage and Compassion

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By Donna Mostiller

In Western New York, January often brings vivid memories of major snow events and the resulting feelings of fear and trepidation. Mid-January however, provides me with a renewed sense of hope as I reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The federal holiday, which commemorates the birth of the civil rights leader, occurs on the third Monday of January. As a nation, we did not arrive at this holiday swiftly or smoothly.  Differing political views delayed the passage of the law to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. It took even longer for all 50 states to recognize the holiday, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. In 2000, South Carolina became the last state to recognize the holiday.

I must admit that I never did understand the opposition. Some stated that the cost associated with a federal holiday was too much and others questioned whether or not King deserved a national holiday. As I look at the life of Dr. King, I see a person of extraordinary courage and compassion. I often forget that he was a young man, with a young family, with all the cares and concerns of a person in the early part of adult life. At times I have not fully considered how well educated he was with two bachelor degrees, one from Morehouse College and the other from Crozier Theological Seminary, along with an earned doctorate from Boston University. So much potential, so many opportunities and yet he chose to follow the path of public service but without the security of regular paychecks and the benefit of a pension. His courage to see that things could be better and his compassion to serve as a champion for change – even when confronted with tremendous personal sacrifice – this is the legacy of Dr. King. His love of God and his love of this country, fueled his decision to commit his life to addressing issues of injustice and inequality, and it is for this that he should be remembered.

Each year I try to do something to demonstrate my respect for him.  Whether it is participating in a cultural event, volunteering in a service project or taking time to read from one of the six books that he wrote, I commit to honoring the day that he was born. In our region, there are often many community events that allow us to celebrate his life. If the pandemic permits, I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities within our communities.