In the ninties I went to two elementary schools named after great men, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., both schools are now closed. I have fond memories of both Ms. Smith’s dance class at Malcolm X and all the wonderful teachers at Dr. King who made learning fun.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wanted to focus on his legacy of hope and healing. He wanted the best for all Americans no matter their race or ability – that we should all be treated as equals. Dr. King felt that disability rights are civil rights. In 1966, Dr. King said of all the forms “of discrimination and inequalities injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane”. Then he was challenging the use of federal funds to support segregated health care systems. The signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act desegregated hospitals.
It was during the marches in the sixties that people with disabilities marched alongside Black Americans and others in support of equality while also carrying their own torch called the Independent Living Movement.
Although we have come a long way since the sixties, we still have a way to go. In the healthcare system, we still have discrimination against people of color and people with disabilities. The states that didn’t expand Medicaid have fallen behind their counterparts in coverage, financial protection, and preventive screening. A person shouldn’t go bankrupt if they get sick or have a disability. I think Dr. King would say health care is a right.
I went to see Dr. King’s Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2022. It’s a beautiful testament to a life cut too short. I hope everyone goes to see it in person. People still use his tactics of nonviolence from the Women’s March to war protest and even the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020.
The sad fact is in 2024 in some ways we are going backwards. I’m hoping for the day Dr. King’s full dream will be realized. One of my favorite quotes is “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people”. Today we will celebrate Dr. King as a civil rights icon. I like to honor and use this day as a day of service to others. We can all do our part big or small. Volunteer at a school, shelter, or food bank. Could do something like providing a meal for someone going through a rough time.