MLK Day in a modern context

The ideals and dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. are relevant today and still unrealized.

On Saturday, acclaimed film director Spike Lee spoke at the Celebrate the Dream event held at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. He gave an eloquent speech emphasizing the importance and relevance of the Martin Luther King Jr. in today’s United States.

Among other things, Lee emphasized that King was anything but a one-dimensional figure limited to one speech or “four or five words.” Lee’s most astute observation was that if alive today, King would probably be leading massive protests against the U.S. government for its war in Iraq.

Indeed, it is often left out of the King story that he was a leading figure against the Vietnam War. In his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” King pointed out the disparities in who was orchestrating the war and who was dying: “Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.”

A look at statistics would bear this out. Class, not race, is the battle that needs to be fought.

King has stripped the man of economic concerns. King saw education and economics as the key to real equality between black and white people. Instead, King has been reduced to a voice box. There is a reason why King used the metaphor of the uncashed check in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

A look at prison statistics will reveal the overwhelming majority of those in prison who are economically disadvantaged. One can compare this to the troubling statistic that black student admissions at the University have decreased from 20.8 percent of the 2003 class to 18.4 percent of the 2004 class, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

King saw his cause as one bigger than that of issues just affecting blacks, but as one affecting the entire nation. King would be disappointed today, as the same battles he fought are still being fought with little gain. Near his death, he embarked on a Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice, as well as protesting the war in Vietnam. King saw the interests of the nation in the same interests of black people.