ELLENVILLE – What does it take to be a great person? Not just a good person, that’s utterly subjective, but a great person — a legend?
For me, it means going against the grain, and doing the right thing, whatever the cost.
In that light, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stands at the top of my list of inspirational figures. As we get ready to celebrate his birthday on Monday, January 15, it’s a fantastic time to memorialize this amazing human.
Did you know that while fighting relentlessly for civil rights, preaching non-violence, and leading the resistance for de-segregation and indeed, fundamental human rights, Dr. King was imprisoned nearly 30 times? He was arrested, and went to jail for acts of civil disobedience, and on trumped-up charges, like when he was jailed in Alabama in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor Dr. King. The holiday was first commemorated in 1986, and is celebrated on the third Monday in January, which this year, happens to fall on his actual birthday — January 15. (By the way, George Washington is the only other American to have had his birthday observed as a national holiday.)
How resolutely he clung to non-violence — in the face of unspeakable and widely-accepted aggression, is remarkable. In 1958, when he was stabbed, King was quick to forgive his attacker, saying that he felt "no ill will" toward her.
In September 1962, as he was giving a speech, a member of a Nazi party jumped onstage and repeatedly punched him in the face. Security took him away — and King didn’t press charges. Instead of wanting to punish his aggressor, he instead sought to change the established views that could create such a racist. "The system that we live under creates people such as this youth," King wrote in Martin Luther King on Leadership. "I am not interested in pressing charges. I’m interested in changing the kind of system that produces this kind of man."
Can you imagine that level of realization, fortitude, and self-sacrifice? I have often wished for fire and brimstone brought down on people who drive slow in the fast lane…
My friend Willis had this to say, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means a great deal to me.
Everything he stood for and his achievements showed me as a black child that I CAN DO ANYTHING. He fought for those who couldn’t defend themselves and showed the world that even as a person of color, you can have class and make a difference despite what others may think. When it comes to today’s society, his words are more relevant than ever. When it comes to following someone, who led by an amazing example, I can’t see how Dr. King is not on the top of the list of inspiring people."
In fact, this weekend will showcase a few local events to honor Dr. King and celebrate his legend. The Town of Rosendale will play host to a 2-day long celebration of Martin Luther King Day. On Sunday, January 14 from 3 to 6 p.m., the Rosendale Recreation Center (1055 Route 32 South) will host their 9th Annual MLK Day Celebration of Service, which honors not only the beloved civil servant Dr. King, but also the folks in Ulster County who sacrifice their time and energy volunteering at non-profit organizations. The event will feature fantastic food and music (gospel and jazz), raffles for the volunteers, and tons of fun. (For more information and to register for the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-481-0331.)
Then, on Monday, January 15 (MLK Day) from 2 to 5:15 p.m., The Rosendale Theatre will host an afternoon of free, informative activities centered around the life and times of Dr. King. These activities include the playing of Dr. King’s "I Have A Dream" speech, the singing of civil rights protest songs, and a showing of the film Marshall, detailing the life of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court. (The theatre can be reached for additional info by calling 845-658-8989, or visiting www.rosendaletheatre.org.)
So, let’s take a moment and reflect on the courage it took to fight the establishment, and let us draw inspiration from Dr. King’s life. Celebrate the broad circle of kindness and generosity that knits us together as a community, and let’s all try to demonstrate the value of Dr. King’s spirit across all generations.
—Amberly Jane Campbell