While residents of Moffat County enjoyed another typical Monday earlier this week, just 210 miles east of here, thousands of strangers gathered in the sub-freezing cold near downtown Denver, united by the memory of a black man from Atlanta who forced our country to live up to its creed that "all men are created equal."
Martin Luther King Jr.
He was in Memphis, Tenn., supporting a strike of garbage workers when a sniper took his life in 1968. It's interesting to note that he died while fighting for economic justice -- not civil rights. But Americans tend to stuff King's legacy into a tiny little box labeled "racial equality" and tuck it away on a shelf, assuming that the problem is largely solved and not worth examining anymore.
That's especially true here in Northwest Colorado, where the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday came and went without fanfare. Area government offices and schools remained opened. Local attitudes seem to suggest that while King was an important historical figure, his life lacks relevance in a county that is overwhelmingly white with a growing Hispanic population.
There's a paradox to be explored here. King, of course, is most famous for leading a movement of non-violence to outlaw segregation. But he was an agent of broad social change who believed that America's problems went deeper than racial inequality. He was a tireless crusader for the rights of workers and the poor, regardless of color. His message was one of justice and unity -- that love could conquer hate, that we could learn to embrace our differences.
If Moffat County can't take one day out of the year to celebrate's King's legacy, how can our children ever learn to appreciate his role in history? By not officially observing the holiday, it sends a subconscious message that his cause simply wasn't that important. We're essentially reducing MLK day to a "black" holiday, which is not what King's life was all about. But how will young people learn that lesson?
We're not suggesting the city rename Victory Way in honor of Dr. King. But how about letting kids stay home from school as an small acknowledgment that Martin Luther King stood for something very important to all us -- equality. If that's too much to ask, at the very the least the schools could spend the day studying and reflecting on King's accomplishments through a formal lesson plan.