As I go into this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, I have the greatest sense of pride for the legacy that he left us. That legacy is his dream of hope, equality and nonviolence.
I’ll be in my hometown of Selma, Alabama this year where we will celebrate Dr. King’s legacy. To me, legacy isn’t a birthright or a bequest. It doesn’t always happen just because you are born into a certain family or live in a wealthy zip code. Legacy, for me, is built and handed down from one generation and is even acquired without compensation. It is a gift to be opened and then re-gifted to the next generation. It’s a deliberate continuous effort built upon strength, determination, purpose and courage that anyone can create to ensure their achievements are significant and contribute to the betterment of mankind. That’s the legacy I will celebrate!
Dr. King explains the heart of legacy in one of his most eloquent quotes about courage:
“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency ask the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
I feel that our work within public education and those still committed to the value of a public education pay tribute to his great legacy. I am reminded of the courage I need in my job at Atlanta Public Schools. My Selma upbringing paved the way for me to take on what some have labeled the most challenging school district in America.
I believe my job, our job, must be to ensure that every student has access to a high quality education. With that high quality education, we have the power to break the cycle of poverty, the cycle of ignorance, the cycle of corruption, the cycle of violence. And, that happens because a high quality education also provides students with the academic, career and decision making skills to give them choices in life. Every day when I talk with our APS students, I am reminded about the full meaning of King’s legacy. It takes courage to do the right things for our students—to put them first so that they are our next legacy builders.