Monday, January 18, 2010

Opinion: Three Reasons to Celebrate MLK

In the wake of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's reported comments during the 2008 presidential campaign, the continuing struggles of black media and the tragedy in Haiti, I want to share my top three reasons to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

1) King, a "dark-skinned, articulate speaker," helped blaze the trail for President Obama.

Unlike Obama, King was not "light-skinned," to borrow a much-maligned phrase attributed to Reid in the book "Game Change." But people remember King not for the color of his skin but for his humanity, which earned him the Nobel Prize for his advocacy for equality among races and peaceful resistance to discrimination.

They also remember the loftiness of his words – from his "I Have A Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 to his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" remarks in Memphis the night before he was assassinated in 1968.

After Obama secured the Democratic nomination, "CBS Early Show" co-host Harry Smith declared: "This day, Aug. 28, is steeped in history. Barack Obama delivers his historic acceptance speech and 45 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have A Dream' speech."

Maya Angelou noted on the same program that Obama was only 2 years old when King made his most memorable speech, but that "he has, I think, pretty much the same dream. I think he had the same dream that any leader has for [his] people."

Angelou then speculated that if King were alive today: "It'd be a lot of 'I told you so, we could do this.' To America, not to blacks, not to whites and not to Asians. But to Americans, 'I knew we could do this.' "

2) Special editions on King bring much-needed advertising dollars to black media.

As the former editor and publisher of a newspaper targeting the black community, I looked forward to the two coldest months of the year – January and February. The King celebration in January meant a special edition dedicated to the civil rights leader's life, the impact of his death on America and the black community, and other special stories and events.

It also meant that businesses, organizations and government agencies were more generous with their community service and advertising dollars.

But Black History Month in February is the real biggie. In addition to an editorial mix of current news and historical information, the special edition also means special distribution of the newspaper to schools, churches, businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

These special editions published in two months can mean the difference to the newspaper's bottom line for the entire year.

Now, with free information year-round on the Internet squeezing general interest as well as ethnic media, the special King editions in January and Black History Month in February are even more important to black newspapers, which still provide important news and information to their readers.

3) The spirit of King invokes community service and volunteerism.

One day before he was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, Obama participated in a community service project in the nation's capital dedicated to Dr. King.

Obama's decision reminded all Americans that the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of King has become a national day of service. Rather than rushing to the malls for "King Holiday Sales," Americans are called on each year to honor his memory by volunteering in a wide variety of projects – whether it's collecting food and clothing, packing baskets for Meals on Wheels programs, refurbishing schools and community centers, donating money, holding blood drives and so on.

Today, participating in similar community service projects has taken on new urgency as Americans and the world rush to invoke the spirit of King following a great natural disaster with immense human tragedy – the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

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