January 17, 2022

Celebrating Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MSM President James Gandre reflects on the importance of January 17: “Today we celebrate the extraordinary Dr. King, a man whose impact on America’s history and trajectory are beyond calculation.”

Dear MSM Community,

There is likely no American more universally associated with confronting injustice among those who were purposefully left out of full and just participation in society than the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Today we celebrate the extraordinary Dr. King, a man whose impact on America’s history and trajectory are beyond calculation.

All generations have lived through troubling times, some worse than others, and those of us alive today are living through our own particular troubling times filled with some of the most rancorous and divisive rhetoric and actions experienced by any generation.  Our country’s march toward our founders’ ideal of “a more perfect Union” has far too often been too slow and fraught with prejudice, injustice, inequity, hatred, and extreme violence.  Tragically, during better times and worse times, there are always groups that experience specific unjust discrimination not experienced by others.  They lack opportunities due to their group identity, laws are applied or drafted differently based on their identity, and they live in fear of physical danger on a daily basis.  Historically and right up to the present day, this has been true for African Americans and, of course, for other groups.

Today, we celebrate one of the greatest leaders this country has ever produced.  Few people in the world have had this kind of impact on the country they loved yet sought to fundamentally change.  His life was cut much too short, but his legacy lives on today, and he, along with so many others, helped lead this country to a far better place than the one they inherited.  In 2017, President Obama wrote these words:

Dr. King fought not merely for the absence of oppression but for the presence of opportunity. …America was watching, and so they kept marching… Because they kept moving forward with unwavering resistance, they changed not only laws but also hearts and minds. And as change rippled across the land, it began to strengthen over time…

Today, we celebrate one of the greatest leaders this country has ever produced.  Few people in the world have had this kind of impact on the country they loved yet sought to fundamentally change.

President, Manhattan School of Music

Here are just a few recent examples of the kinds of change that Dr. King and others fought for:

  • Kamala Harris, the first woman – a Black and South Asian woman and a daughter of immigrants – became Vice President of the United States.
  • President Biden appointed the most diverse Presidential Cabinet ever, including the first Native American, the first South Asian, and the first LGBTQ person.
  • Today, the Congress is the most racially diverse ever, and it has the most females ever.
  • Ten mayors of the 20 most populous cities are people of color (three of whom are also women and two of whom are also LGBTQ): New York City, Chicago, Houston, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Francisco, Charlotte, Seattle, and Denver.
  • Colorado became the first state to elect an openly gay person governor.

We have also recently seen courts and juries finally bring justice to those who have brutally killed innocent people simply because of the color of their skin.

However, at the same time, we see more alarming and horrific setbacks.  These include more violent outbursts and attacks by members of our society on those considered “other” and incredibly restrictive laws that are making it more difficult for members of targeted minorities from exercising their Constitutional right to vote.

Although we still have a very long road to walk, we must recommit ourselves to Dr. King’s vision and march ever forward to becoming a more inclusive society.  To quote Dr. King:

Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.

And to quote President Obama, once again:

As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, we celebrate a man and a movement that transformed our country, and we remember that our freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of others. 

We may not be able to see the whole staircase, but we must commit to the climb, embracing Dr. King’s faith in what lies ahead so that our country may continue to transform itself into a more perfect union, one that expands freedom for all.

James Gandre
President, Manhattan School of Music