Why MLK Day is important to an expat living in the USA


Dr Marting Luther King and his wife Cora. Image from Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. See http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c16775 . Author: Herman Hiller / New York World-Telegram & Sun.

EXPAT LIFE: MLK Day is being held today in the USA. MLK stands for Martin Luther King Jr. and today’s public holiday is held annually to celebrate the life and achievements of this great man. 

In Australia, most people probably know Dr King, as an influential and charismatic spokesperson for black civil rights, who was assassinated in the sixties.

One of the benefits of living here in the US is that via our children’s schooling, we are being exposed to much more of American history, than we would ever have in Australia. By luck, I had the pleasure of helping my daughter do an audio-visual project on Dr. King’s life last year and feel as if I gained much more from it than she probably did.

Aside from learning far more detail about Martin Luther King, what struck me the most was the absolute bravery and moral leadership this man epitomized. Despite all the dangers to himself and his own family; despite shameful treatment by police and community authorities; amongst all the abuse and hate shown to him and his followers, he stood out like a shining beacon.

Martin Luther King giving his “I Have A Dream” speech at Washington D.C. in 1963. Image from the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Yes, he was one of the greatest orators of our times; that is without doubt. But it was his strength of will to overcome all the obstructions and difficulties he faced, that attracts my admiration the most.

By comparison today, it is hard to see anyone in this land or my own, who demonstrates the same strength of will to do what’s right.

For instance, I look at the gun issue here and naively wonder why someone hasn’t changed the necessary laws previously. Fortunately, there are now some changes that look like they will be made (if we are lucky). President Obama, is the first president in US history to present such ground-breaking legislation and it will probably only help limit the problem rather than excoriate it totally.

It is obvious from Obama’s earlier healthcare reform legislation, how hard it is, to get any massive social change made in the current political and social environment here. He is just one man though. Wouldn’t it be great if others stood forward bravely to take up this worthy cause, with the same conviction that Dr. King showed?


The man who emerged triumphant from a mountain of despair: Martin Luther King Jr, is celebrated and remembered at Washington DC. by this powerful statue: ‘the Stone of Hope’. Photograph copyright of Expat Aussie In NJ.

When I look at the USA, it seems an almost impossible task to be a ‘shining beacon’ but somehow Dr King managed it. To be honest, it’s difficult to believe that battling the NRA, entrenched Republicans and a popular antipathy amongst the population towards gun reform, would be any harder than what King faced in his day. I guess what’s different to me is that Dr King epitomized someone with a single-minded belief in what he was doing was right. It was morally right. And that singular drive to change society for the better is what seems now to be lacking today amongst most political and social leaders. It’s lacking here, in Australia and in any Western country I can think of. They don’t make them like Martin Luther King any more. He was one of a kind.

Powerful words from Martin Luther King, displayed at his memorial in Washington DC. Photo copyright Expat Aussie In NJ.

And that is just one good reason, I will always mark this day on my calendar, no matter what country I live in the future.

Long may he be celebrated and admired. He really was one of a kind.

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