By NEMS Daily Journal
The Martin Luther King, Jr., national holiday weekend inspires celebrations and commemorations nationwide honoring the pre-eminent leader of the American civil rights movement, a hero for people of all races and economic situations.
The Rev. Dr. King, who would have been 81 on Jan. 15, remains a vibrant, inspiring figure worthy of emulation nearly 42 years after his assassination in Memphis in April 1968.
King confronted the unfulfilled rights of citizenship for African Americans – equal rights and equal opportunities backed by the specificity of statutes that fleshed out what the Constitution intends.
His life’s work, a continual crusade for access in public accommodations, full voter participation, and quality education for all reshaped American life, in ways transformative for the good of all.
Yet, even with his unique legacy, the force of law, and the continuing work of people who believe and work as King did, the full potential of many Americans is not attained.
Part of that human development deficit rests with continuing discrimination, an issue that will remain despite the striving for the higher ideal.
More of the potential is unfulfilled because people of all races in every part of the United States don’t look closely enough at how King prepared himself – beginning with lessons learned in a strong family – with hard work and educational attainment exceeding almost all other Americans of his generation.
King, in the best traditions of the American dream, was a self-made man who overcame the odds through his own effort and determination. He skipped grades in high school, even entering Morehouse College at age 15 based on college admission scores.
The rest of his education story is one of diligence for goals set: bachelors degrees from Morehouse and Crozer Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Boston University.
King was a 19-year-old student at Morehouse College in Atlanta when he wrote a speech entitled “The Purpose of Education,” in which he said, “Education must enable a man … to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.”
Larry Faulkner, former president of the University of Texas at Austin, said of King, “Dr. King understood the central importance of education in shaping who we become. … If he (had) traveled with me on …. visits to the high schools of Texas, he would step forward and he would help me to convince students that a university experience will be invaluable to them … And he would emphasize the reality of the possibility.”
The reality of possibility becomes apparent when effort leads to achievement, and achievement doesn’t happen without personal vision and action.
It is not possible to fully honor King’s memory and emulate him without understanding the importance of education in his personal journey.
The first educational attainment improvement in our time and state, of course, must be retaining all students at least through high school graduation.
Next, college graduation rates, especially at public universities, generally must be raised. Mississippi is among the states with university graduation rates too low across the board, but it is lowest for black students, including students at the historically black universities.
Acting affirmatively to pull all students toward higher educational attainment is necessary from kindergarten through graduate school.
King’s self-affirmation about the importance of education is a guiding light for all, the facilitator of success.