What He Means to Me: Dr. King’s Legacy

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

Dr. King — a champion of the civil rights and labor movements, a preacher from Atlanta who drew people of different races, ethnicities, and religions together around the common cause of equity and inclusion — left us 50 years ago today in a painful event that reverberated throughout the country.

On this day, though, we choose not to remember how he died, but how he lived.

A photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr with his wife Coretta Scott King

Because Dr. King’s legacy embodies the core of our work at The Opportunity Agenda -- from our belief that opportunity should be full and equal and that greater opportunity benefits everyone, to our values that communication and storytelling can drive policy and culture change and counter unjust policies in immigration, criminal justice reform, and economic opportunity.

Indeed, we see Dr. King’s legacy in our messaging memos on talking about race, racism and racial justice, in our guidance on rejecting bigotry and pushing for concrete lasting change, we see his influence in our memo on countering fear-based messaging and uplifting thoughtful, positive representations of black men and boys. Dr. King’s values are our values.

Through his words and his actions, he has shown us that our nation is indeed stronger when all of us can contribute and share ideas, and when all our basic rights and dignity are respected. He has shown us that we need to embrace ideas that unify us as a diverse people and we need to continue -- now more than ever -- to speak out against discrimination and prejudice when we see it.

Through his words and his actions, Dr. King has shown us that our nation is indeed stronger when all of us can contribute and share ideas, and when all our basic rights and dignity are respected.

And so today, in celebration of his life, we’ve collected statements from The Opportunity Agenda staff members on what Dr. King’s legacy means for them:

Ellen Buchman, Vice President, Strategy and Program Impact: Dr. King’s prophetic legacy and life influence me every day, particularly as I am honored and privileged enough to work in the field of advancing social justice for all. I try to remind myself as much as possible that, in accordance with Dr. King, if we organize and lead with love, our struggle will be successful and we will win.

Jamila Brown, Digital Communications Strategist: Uplifting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as a radical, anti-war, and anti-capitalist visionary is the legacy that I hold most dear. This is the spirit I see carried through Black Lives Matter and other multi-coalition racial justice movements today. As we further Dr. King's legacy, we must also work to reclaim his efforts to rebuild a world grounded in not only equity, but justice.

Lucy Odigie-Turley, Manager of Research and Evaluation: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy means that I, along with the estimated 4.2 million black immigrants currently residing in the United States, have a chance to participate and contribute to his vision of a better future. We hail from Jamaica, Haiti, Nigeria, Panama, and the United Kingdom, and many more parts of the diasporas. Our presence was made possible by the sacrifices of Dr. King and countless other African Americans. Today we remember and uplift those sacrifices and celebrate the global black identity they helped to foster.

Jennice Colón, Operations Associate: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” What this means to me: To rise above our own perpetuation of injustice, in even the smallest of tasks, is the utmost duty of every individual. We the people will fare better.

Will Coley, Communications Coordinator: When I was in high school in North Carolina, my history teacher made us memorize and recite a portion of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the entire class. For a white kid growing up in the Bible Belt, King’s words sounded sacred, something akin to a Scripture reading, something to be revered. But it was also a call to action. Later in life, while working for social justice organizations, I still marvel at Dr. King’s fearlessness and his strategic communications. He shined a light on uncomfortable truths: namely, that our nation is still built on white supremacy. Dr. King’s life and words challenge us to build a country that truly lives up to its ideals. 

Elizabeth Johnsen, Outreach and Editorial Manager: Eight years ago – for my last story as a reporter, actually - I interviewed a close friend and ally of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Hughes. The two ministers worked together on the Alabama Council of Human Relations, and Hughes often stood in to preach for Dr. King while he was out marching. Somehow, talking to Robert Hughes just made it real for me. Sitting with someone who knew Dr. King so well, who remembered him as a person -- not just the icon we all see him as -- changed something for me. It made me realize that we are living among Dr. King’s legacy, and that those leading the fight for racial justice today are as real as he was. That they are also making history.