Living Up to Martin Luther King’s Message of Peace with a New President

National Park Service

“Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site” by National Park Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Laaibah Tayyeb, Writer

Despite the sweltering August heat, an enormous crowd of thousands of people are gathered at the nation’s Capital, Washington D.C. This crowd of people – both Black and White, rich and poor, old and young – all stood together, peacefully.

On August 28, 1963, during a time of intense racial segregation across the United States, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed the people before him. When he delivered the monumentous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King changed the world with his powerful words. He dreamed of a nation where people would be treated equally; where oppression and injustice would be transformed into freedom and justice; and where children would be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 

 

Almost 60 years later today, we witness a very contrasting March on Washington. Both are defined by large numbers of people, and both are desperate for change to happen. However, one of these crowds, instead of protesting peacefully across the streets of the Capital, violently riots in our nation’s building. One of these crowds was made up of supporters with the intentions to attack and hurt innocent people. One of these crowds has now placed a threat on our nation’s peace and security. 

When I reflect back to the events of this past month, I am not only driven with anger and frustration, but also shocked at the intense irony. I think back to the legacy of Dr. King, a legacy defined by peaceful protests, change sparked by compassion for everyone, and America’s greatest leader of nonviolent social change. Then, I remember the storming of the U.S Capitol. I think back to unpeaceful riots sparked by leaders filled with ignorance and lies and driven by hatred and violence.

 

Instead of replicating Dr. King’s message of peaceful change, it is mocked by the recent events of hatred. It is mocked by ‘protesters’ corrupted with guns, accompanied with Confederate flags, and spewed with words of racism and white-supremacy. 

 

But at a time at which our nation is not only facing an ongoing threat of far-right violence, but also hundreds and thousands of deaths from Covid-19, an economic downturn causing thousands of families to struggle to afford basic needs, and the consequences of systematic racism, the hope of a new President is more powerful than ever. 

 

President Joe Biden is not only ready to acknowledge and face the cascading problems plaguing our nation, but also stands by MLK’s ideals of peace and unity. 

 

On the day of President Biden’s inauguration, he had said, “America has to be better than this. And, I believe America is better than this.”

 

He reflected on the changes our nation had undergone when he said, “Just look around. Here we stand, in the shadow of a Capitol dome that was completed amid the Civil War, when the Union itself hung in the balance. Yet we endured and we prevailed. Here we stand looking out to the great Mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Here we stand, where 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protestors tried to block brave women from marching for the right to vote. Today, we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office – Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.”   

 

And finally, he reassured the power of democracy over violence when he said, “Here we stand across the Potomac from Arlington National Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace. And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground. That did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

 

It was difficult not to feel hope- and even a little excitement- for the future. After feeling that our nation had gone backwards from the words of Dr. King, and had chosen hatred over love, I am reminded that things can always change for the better.  

 

MLK’s values of change through peace and equality for all will always stick with me. Over the past year, it was frustrating to see an escalating divide between the American people over things like political parties. But political leaders who promise that love and respect for all people above anything brings to me hope and reassurance. Black History Month reminds us that it is ever important to unify each other and spread love over anything.