DEAR READERS: Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! I have been thinking a lot about Dr. King and his poignant messages about how to live together as brothers and sisters in our great nation and throughout the world. I was a student at Howard University when the March on Washington was organized by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others in order to create a holiday in honor of this great man. I remember that my mother and my best friend from Baltimore, Todd McDaniels, came to D.C. and walked with me and thousands of other people, united in our belief that King's life's work should be lauded.
The struggle to claim this day for Dr. King was fierce. Many did not share the sentiment that his legacy deserved such acclaim. But thanks to the persistent effort of throngs of political and religious leaders as well as regular folk, we got it done.
And yet, it is far too easy to be grateful for a day off -- for those who get that -- and lounge around or do some other nonspecific activity. I challenge us all to make the conscious decision to honor King's words and work by invoking his memory. You can do this by reading his writings, watching one of the many films made to document his life and visiting the neighborhoods and streets that bear his name.
Better yet, you can decide to stand up for social justice causes. Years ago, Black Enterprise founder Earl G. Graves told me that sometimes we have to stand in harm's way in order to do the right thing. Given the heightened levels of racism, unnecessary murders of innocent people in our cities and growing presence of homelessness and poverty, there is plenty that we can stand up to support. The moment we are living in requires vigilance. We must pay attention to what's going on around us and not turn a blind eye when injustice rears its ugly head. We must be willing to speak up for those whose voices have been silenced. We can do this in so many ways, including in our neighborhood and community meetings, during family gatherings, by writing to our members of Congress and by writing to our media outlets. The notion of "when you see something, say something" is important. When you gather like-minded people to stand up for a cause, all the better. We have the ability to bring goodness, love and light to our communities and to help eradicate the evil and ignorance that lurk in the shadows. Dr. King fervently believed that it was possible to bring about lasting change by working together and fiercely claiming the goodness in others.
This was not just lofty thinking. Unfortunately, today it may seem so. Too many of our civil rights seem to be in peril. Too many people are being persecuted and often killed unjustly. This has to stop. I intend to study Dr. King's work more closely in an effort to look for guidance on how to proceed through the landmines that currently threaten the quality of life for all of humanity. What will you do?
(Lifestylist and author Harriette Cole is president and creative director of Harriette Cole Media. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)