Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination—and today, we are reflecting on what his work, finished and unfinished, means for our own. We were founded in the spirit of Dr. King's own words, in the belief that true equality means access to a quality education for every child. We are grateful for the powerful legacy of Dr. King, both in the far reaching impact he had on civil rights in our nation and in the direct impact his words had on our Founder, Eugene Lang, sparking our work that has touched the lives of 18,000 children. In honoring Dr. King's great legacy, we are also motivated by—and painfully aware of—the fact that there is still much work to be done to ensure that every child has equal access to the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
In his brilliant “The Other America” speech at Stanford University in 1967, Dr. King called for broader policy reforms—highlighting economic inequality as one of the greatest challenges faced by our country. In words that still ring true today, Dr. King said, "It's more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It's much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.”
In Dr. King's time, our nation saw powerful change through collective action: the march from Selma to Montgomery and the Voting Rights Act; the school walkouts in Birmingham that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the students who bravely walked into segregated schools leading up to and after Brown v. Board of Education. Yet Dr. King himself made it clear that in order to reach true equality, we need more than the desegregation of schools: we need to end extreme poverty and make high quality education accessible to all. Today, with extreme poverty and school segregation on the rise and the gap between rich and poor students widening, it's clear that we are far from the dream of equality that Dr. King envisioned. Yet, as ever, we see the promise of a more equitable future in our young people: from the recent school walkouts to largely youth-powered movements like the demand for gun reform and safer schools, students are raising their voices to speak out for justice and equality.
In order to do justice to our own mission—and make Dr. King's dream a reality—we must do right by the next generation, and give them access to the tools they need to earn an education and be heard. We asked some of our Dreamers what Dr. King's legacy means to them—and their answers, below, show what it can look like when children are given access to the resources and the platform they deserve. We owe it to them to do better in building bridges, rather than barriers; and to give every child the access to every opportunity to achieve their full potential, regardless of race or family income.
We talked with high school Dreamers in Boulder, Colorado about what they have learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Randy, 9th Grade
One lesson I have learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. is to not judge people based on their color—just because they are brown or black. Stereotypes are not true. Unless we speak out against something, it won't change. For example, police brutality will not end unless people continue to stand up against it.
Andrea, 9th Grade
Martin Luther King, Jr. taught me I can make a difference in life and it is possible to change the world around me. I want to see equal rights, especially regarding race. We have made progress, but things aren't equal, and we shouldn't judge people by their color. This world is still not united, but his words give me hope that someday my kids will see a universe that is united instead of separated.
Saúl, 10th Grade
What I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King is to never give up. That’s an important lesson to learn because sometimes when you’re down and feeling like things are hopeless, you remember to find your motivation. He’s an example of what wanting something really badly can do.
Alejandra, 10th Grade
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was my source of inspiration for getting involved in activism in my school and community. He taught me to stand up for what’s right and speak out on the issues. He also taught me to be proud of my skin color and my culture, and never feel less because of it.
“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lathan, a 10th grade Dreamer from Miami, Florida, shared his interpretation of a quote that inspires him:
"This profound quote shines a bright light on human nature. It emphasizes the fact that things are hidden. Humans have a tendency to hide things that will potentially hurt the person next to them. The quote helps us realize the bigger picture within our community, city, county, state, and country. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest minds to realize the shadow that overcasts humans’ hearts, minds, and souls."
Dreamers Give Back: Our National Day of Service
Each January, Dreamers across the country volunteered for the National Day of Service on Martin Luther King Day. The National Day of Service is a day where Dreamers participate in civic engagement to honor and continue the legacy of Dr. King. Each Dreamer makes a difference, and together, we impact many communities across the country. Let’s take a look at how Dreamers worked together to have an impact this year!