Today, I’m excited to participate in the annual MLK Day of Service through Penn State, where I’ll join hundreds of volunteers across the university’s campuses to give back in our local communities.
We remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the face of the American Civil Rights Movement. His groundbreaking work fighting for racial justice is richly deserving of today’s national holiday celebrating his legacy.
But there’s another key piece of Dr. King’s legacy that’s often overlooked, and it’s just as vital to continuing his mission. He also founded the Poor People’s Campaign to fight for economic justice for all people, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin. As part of this campaign, Dr. King led a Poor People’s March on Washington in the spring of 1968, to demand that the federal government invest in jobs and housing for the poor.
Dr. King understood that fighting for racial justice also meant fighting for economic justice in a society where African Americans and women made up majorities of low-wage workers. He understood that civil rights were not enough to guarantee that all people would be equal under the law, so long as the rich had more influence than the poor over the government that writes and enforces the law.
Many of our friends and neighbors here in Pennsylvania are struggling financially, and I believe that we do our best to carry on Dr. King’s legacy when we reach out to them and offer our help. In his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, Dr. King challenged us to channel our desire to seek personal greatness —to be the “drum major” leading the marching band—into action that helps the most vulnerable:
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.
Please join me in celebrating Dr. King’s life and legacy today. Serve in your community. Reach out to a friend or neighbor who might be struggling and ask how you can lift them up. Above all else, remember that we are all brothers and sisters, and we owe it to each other to fight for economic justice in whatever way we can.