Thankfully, we live in a time when Martin Luther King Jr. is commemorated through a date on our calendar. On the third Monday of every year, we take a break from our daily routines and celebrate the efforts and involvement of MLK in the civil rights movement. We also evaluate the current state of our county in terms of eradicating racism and achieving equality. Martin Luther King Jr. is a contemporary icon who peacefully advocated for equality and stood up for what is moral even in a time when it was not accepted.
While most of us have grown up with it, the holiday of Martin Luther King day is relatively new and has controversial beginnings. Four days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, Michigan Congressman John Conyers made the first proposition of MLK day, however, his request was immediately shut down. Conyers persisted year after year, continuing to propose MLK day. Finally, in the 1980s some traction was gained when the Congressional Black Caucus collected over six million signatures in favor of a federal MLK holiday. Although President Reagan signed the bill to make MLK a federal holiday in the 1980s, it was not until 2000 that Martin Luther King Jr. was fully accepted as a national holiday in all states.
Despite restrictions due to COVID-19, Alachua County and the University of Florida still managed to find ways to commemorate this important day.
The non-profit Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Florida, Inc. hosted a safe, mask-required celebration at Citizens Field in Gainesville. The event consisted of speakers and a gospel performance by Canton Jones and the "Florida Fellowship Super Choir." Community members were also recognized including Aeriel Lane, recipient of the 2021 Hall of Fame Award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. for her commitment to racial empowerment through the founding of March for OUR Freedom, and Taylor Hill-Miles, a local high school senior and recipient of the 2021 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award for outstanding leadership and service.
The Cleather Hathcock Sr. Community Center in Alachua also hosted an in-person socially distant Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. State Representative Yvonne Hinson called upon those at the event to get more involved in policy and combat the white supremacy still present in the U.S. The keynote speaker was David Kanton, director of the UF African Studies program. Kanton emphasized that Martin Luther King Jr. stood for more than his idealized accomplishments and faced much adversity and resistance in his life. Kanton also addressed contemporary racial and social injustice such as the disproportionate magnitude of COVID-19 in minorities and the many other areas our country must improve to end systematic racism.
The UF student government hosted an MLK day of service donation drive to celebrate the legacy and memory of MLK. Starting Jan. 13 through Feb. 1, students can donate items such as masks, sanitizer, wipes, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste and toothbrushes at the desks in the Student Activities and Involvement Portal or at the Brown Center for Leadership and Service Office in the Reitz Union. All these items will be donated to Grace Market Place which serves to end homelessness in Alachua County.
If you were unable to commemorate MLK day this year, take an hour to listen or read one of MLK’s speeches. Reflect on how far our country has come since these speeches were first delivered over 50 years ago and how much more we need to do to fully actualize MLK’s vision. Read some of MLK’s inspiring quotes. Make sure to continue to build upon the lasting and impactful legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.