Two of my expat co-workers enjoy dressing another co-worker for the holidays. It began with a Christmas Tree for Christmas, then a firework for the New Year. It was all fun and games until…they actually wanted to dress my Caucasian co-worker for Martin Luther King Day. What in the world?
I didn’t realize how much it all meant to me until that moment. Ironically, I wanted to reach out and touch my naive colleagues right across their faces. Needless to say, I was able to calm down without physical violence, but oh how appealing it was…when I shared their plans with another African American co-worker, she had the same reaction…”somebody stop them or I will start swinging”.
My reaction to my colleagues’ insensitivity gave me greater appreciation for Dr. King’s non-violent movement. I wanted to strike people who honestly had no ill intent, while he and others refrained from physical harm toward those who maliciously disrespected, physically harmed, and even murdered them. I can’t imagine being spat on, attacked by dogs, or beaten near death simply to get food in a restaurant. I can’t fathom walking miles to work for over a year so that I wouldn’t have to sit on the back of the bus or give up my seat. Over-simplified I know, but the sacrifice made to preserve the rights and dignity of all human beings renders me almost speechless.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is more than a day off from work. It’s a day to honor those who sacrificed their lives that we might live better ones. It’s a day to help those who cannot help themselves. It’s a day to evaluate our commitment to the call, the legacy that Dr. King left. Though we have come a long way, there is much to be done. It is time to go beyond observing one day, one man…it is time for a lifestyle that ensures Dr. King and all those who stood with him did not do so in vain.
Nicole A Schmidt is an internationally-acclaimed educator currently teaching English China, documenting her experiences along the way. Also a published YA poet/author, she continues to reach out to and advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves. Traveling to China, like other endeavors and accomplishments, was/is not only her chance of a lifetime, but an opportunity to empower teens and young adults of color to pursue chances of their own lifetimes.