Martin Luther King Jr. is well renowned for being a Baptist minister and a nonviolent civil-rights activist who played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement that fought against social injustice towards people of color. After a long fight, President Reagan signed a bill in 1983 to honor Martin Luther King Jr. by making his birthday an official holiday. Since then the American public has taken time every January to honor one of the most important figures in our history. Although college students were not alive during his time, we have all grown up in his legacy. Below, are eight students thoughts about MLK day. 

1. Noelle Larson, Lake Forest College, Psychology

“Days of remembrance serve a multiple of importances to humanity. On these days, we are asked to honor the life of a person by holding their memory in our hearts and minds, as we truly appreciate and offer gratitude for their tremendous and indelible impact on our world. Even more, days of memorial compel us to relate to the social context surrounding the work of the individual. Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves as a time for reflection and refamiliarization with our nation's soberingly recent history of systemic injustice, as King would be only 89 years old this year. In addition, this day serves as a time to respect and celebrate the victories of Civil Rights activists throughout history, as well as to assess the work still to be accomplished in our world.”

2. Maya Ungar, University of Arkansas, International Studies, Political Science, and French

“In my eyes, MLK day represents both how far we have come as a nation and how far we still have to go. The nation bonds together to pay homage to a man that helped to unite the country and improve equality, yet his work did not die with him. His message of non-violence and united action should be carried into the reform that needs to happen in our generation, specifically with police brutality and the prison system.”

3. Arthur Cribbs, Howard University, Journalism

“Every year Martin Luther King Day gives me time to reflect and think back to the sacrifices made by previous generations. As I think back to the era of the Civil Rights movement, I am reminded of the struggle that black people made to receive just treatment and opportunity under the law. Martin Luther King, along with several other leaders and cohorts, put their bodies and their lives in jeopardy in order for future generations of people of color to have a chance to prosper in America. Because martyrs of the Civil Rights movement suffered for the advancement of marginalized people, I use this day to remember to work twice as hard because of the opportunities I have been given. In all my actions, whether it is with work or school, I try to keep a strong work ethic to ensure that the work of that movement was not in vain. With that said, Martin Luther King Day is also a reminder that the fight for civil rights is nowhere near over. While King laid much of the groundwork in helping progress black lives, this fight for equality needs to continue for the benefit of present and future generations of people of color.”

4. Saman Aamer, Rutgers University, Undecided

“To me, MLK day means to continue the fight for equality forever. Inequality becomes normalized in society and by working, we can change it. MLK helped change it once before and it is our mission to continue to fight for equal rights for all people. The day serves as a reminder to continue MLK's legacy.”

5. Jacai Edwards, Wheaton College, African American Diaspora Studies and Political Science

“I would say, for me, MLK day is more than a day off. It’s a day to be thankful for the privileges [I] have, especially as a black individual, and to be thankful that we have the opportunities that Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. had to fight for.”

6. Senait Sanu, Lake Forest College, Psychology

“Martin Luther King represents tolerance and peace. Through his unstoppable dedication and dream he was able to fight for freedom of all people. His resilience and persistence to bring about change led to greater impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King’s day represents the freedom to fight for what is right, for what is your right. His activism and heroism is forever an inspiration to what we can do as people when we come together to fight for change.”

7. Sophia Johnson-Grimes, Muhlenberg College, Theatre

“As a white college student, Martin Luther King Jr. Day bears a different significance to me. To me, the holiday serves as an important reminder of the privilege I hold as a white woman living in America. Though I am unprivileged in certain aspects, being a queer woman, I recognize that the color of my skin will never be a source of my oppression. This day reminds me that the fight for equality is far from over, especially for my brothers, sisters and siblings of color. We all need to keep working to fight systematic oppression of all forms and to stop denying that systematic oppression exists. Peaceful action or not, the inequality needs to go, by whatever means necessary.”

8. Mariam Mbemba, Penn State New Kensington, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

“Martin Luther King Day is a time for everyone of all races and ethnicities to come together to set aside their differences. A time to appreciate the beauty of diverse unification. The first time I experienced MLK Day was at a food bank packing boxes with nutritious food so it will be given to the homeless and hungry; a time of service. Martin Luther King always praised the work of servitude and we must honor his sacrifice for the civil rights of all African-Americans so they can have a better future for generations to come. As an Native African it draws me closer to appreciating my background and also playing my part in supporting my fellow brethren here in the U.S. We may have been separated for about 500 years, but blood is thicker than water and in this case, I look forward to taking part in events like these and even more to improve and carry out the legacies of these great Black leaders such as Martin Luther King and others from the continent and abroad. Indeed we have much to learn from our wise ancestors that we need to put into practice today.”

In conclusion, this day serves a multitude of purposes for college students, allowing them to reflect on historical injustice, celebrate the advancement of civil rights, provide service to the community and acknowledge the continuing systematic racism and the ongoing progression of civil rights. No matter how you choose to celebrate MLK day, it is important to remember the remarkable man who helped to start this conversation in this nation.

Lead Image Credit: Jerónimo Bernot via Unsplash