Moving Forward and Looking Back: My Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today, we honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His leadership and action to abolish inequality and secure human rights for all people motivates us everyday, especially in a time when progress seems so achievable, yet often hopelessly out of reach.

This morning, I took some time to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and what made his impact so great for so many. I returned to a quote of his that always resonates with me: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

This notion seems obvious, but with the rise of nationalism, the lack of empathy for refugees and displaced people, and the scourge of discrimination and violence around the world, these words have never been more important to reflect on.

Dr. King’s words are symbolic records of his impact. But his real strength was his commitment to bring every person along in the movement to end injustice. He only knew how to press forward. But he continually looked back over his shoulder to catch the eye of someone who was fearful, hopeless, uncertain — extending his hand to pull them into the fight.

This is what real advocacy looks like: Recognizing that our individualistic concerns are valid, but also shared; remembering that our greatest strength is in numbers and diversity; sharing desires and unique perspectives.

We all have within us the freedom, the power, and the choice to look back over our shoulder, just as we have the choice to press forward. As I sat with this today, I thought of all the times I’ve watched a UNA-USA member reach out to pull someone in. I’ve watched our movement grow and change and diversify, even in the face of painful challenges that spill a dark shadow across our nation.

I thought to myself, as I’m sure many others have today, how can I live a little more as Dr. King lived? How can I be a stronger advocate for human rights?

Today, and every day, let’s take more moments to look up from the problem we’re trying to solve in order to catch the eye of another. Let’s find commonality between our concerns and solutions. Let’s also find momentum behind our differences. As we exercise the freedom and the power to push forward, let’s make the choice to pull others in.

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