Opinion

Opinion

King's legacy still relevant in digital age: A Tampa Bay Times Editorial

Posted January 14, 2018 6:07 p.m. EST

Today's holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn't be more timely. At a moment when the nation's civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role models, when America's leaders spent their energies inspiring instead of destroying and the future was a vision of shared relevance, equal opportunity and prosperity for all. These are the ideals to which King not only gave his life, but ones that are still vital to American society and achievable today.

King, who was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, has been gone from the public stage for longer than the time he commanded it. But the transformational impact he has had on civil rights and racial equality continues to shape every new generation. King's work as a preacher and advocate for social justice is enduring because his causes transcended race and the social norms of the times. His was a human ministry that saw the common dignity of man as an overwhelming force for peace and justice.

If anything, the sour nature of the partisanship in Washington, and the ugliness in the civic space across the country only sharpen the understanding of King's contribution to the nation. He fought indignity with dignity, cowardice with courage, bigotry with tolerance, violence with nonviolence and injustice with forgiveness and the truth. King's message and behavior is a model even in the digital age, when too often public debate is centered on getting the most shares or retweets.

The King holiday -- fittingly -- is not a static occasion. The third Monday in January has become a notable day of service, as men and women of all ages, races and walks of life contribute to their communities -- caring for the homeless, tutoring, seeing to the needs of those in hospitals. In the Tampa Bay area, as all across the country, the King holiday is celebrated with parades and a weeklong series of events that build on his ideal of brotherhood and service. There is no greater honor to the day than by walking in the steps of a man who acted on his belief in humanity.

The nation's racial cohesion has been tested in recent years through a torrent of deadly encounters between the police and minorities, through the 2016 presidential election and through the resurgence of neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups. King withstood the same dangers and bitterness. His words and actions lifted the nation beyond the cycle of violence and inspired people of all races by touching on the best of the human character. He inspired because he lifted what Americans saw in themselves and what they expected of this great democracy. Today's holiday is a moment to reflect on King's contribution, on the challenge of the times and on the collective responsibility of all generations to keep his legacy alive.

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