It is time again to observe Martin Luther King Day as a Federal holiday in remembrance of the great American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
As a Metro Atlanta resident, it is a proud moment for me to be reminded that this Nobel Peace Prize winner whose message of racial equality had a huge impact on the lives of African Americans in the country was an Atlanta native.
There is no doubt that it was his activism among others that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the nation’s benchmark civil rights legislation which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
This also paved the way for future anti-discrimination legislation including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Although, the activism of Martin Luther King did have a positive impact on the lives of African Americans and the American society has left racial segregation behind. But the quest to eradicate discrimination completely is far from over.
Last year’s Pew research done on the subject stated that 88% of the sample said there was some or a lot of discrimination against the Black population to which 57% of the White population agreed in the same study. And some of them also feel discriminated against.
But, discrimination is not limited to just race. People are also discriminated for their gender, religion and even sexual orientation.
Martin Luther King was a revolutionary of his time but what many might not know is that this idea of equality is not new. More than fourteen hundred years ago, founder of Islam, Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) in his farewell address to his followers stated:
“All of you are equal. All men, whatever nation or tribe they belong to, and whatever station in life they may hold, are equal...an Arab possesses no superiority over the non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab over an Arab.”
However, it is a shame that instead of following this profound teaching of human equality, most cases of religious persecution faced by Christian and other minority religious groups are reported from Muslim majority countries.
Things are much better here in the United States and I salute its constitution that guarantees freedom of religion among other basic human rights for its citizens but according to the FBI statistics, of all the hate crimes reported in 2012, 48.3% were racially biased, 19.6% based on sexual orientation and 19% for religious affiliation. Jews are the most discriminated religious groups in the country followed by Muslims.
In the journey to eliminate racial discrimination that started by the efforts by Dr. King, we have come far enough that now citizens have the ability to go to the judicial system for relief if they feel they were discriminated against. Just last year, Bank of America was fined $2.2 million for discriminating against black candidates over two decades, Del Monte fresh produce company has to pay $1.2 million as a result of discrimination law suite filed by workers recruited from Thailand and a Muslim clerk in California won a fight for her hijab against the clothing chain Abercrombie and Fitch. These are a few recent examples showcasing the society’s fight against discrimination.
Dr. King’s Washington Monument speech of 1963, ‘I have a Dream’ made him an icon. His long time friend Benjamin Mays when delivering his eulogy stated, "Martin Luther King Jr. believed in a United America. He believed that the walls of separation brought on by legal and de facto segregation, and discrimination based on race and color, could be eradicated”.
There is no doubt that this dream is noble one but celebrating his life each year should compel each one of us to do our part in making this dream into a reality, not only for people here in America but for the whole human race.