Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. This morning, I’ve been thinking about a Q&A I did last year with Richard Lawrence, a local affordable housing advocate who worked alongside King in the 1960s in Chicago to combat segregation.

As part of our interview, I asked Lawrence what makes this day important, so many years after King died:

[W]hat it is is an opportunity for us to be reminded of who Dr. King was, and what Dr. King believed. And folks need to remember that we may celebrate it as a holiday today, but it wasn’t a holiday while he was alive. It was the subject of controversy. Ministers criticized him. Elected officials criticized him. Everybody criticized him. And so when you decide to march shoulder to shoulder with somebody, you shouldn’t be altogether concerned about whether they are popular or whether they are not popular.

What you need to consider is what it is that’s important to you. What do you value? What do you believe in? What do you want the world to be? And what you can do to make those beliefs, those values, come true. And that’s the challenge — for me — that Dr. King’s birthday represents. We would like to put him on a pedestal and think he was an exception. Well, he was an exception, but he’s an exception that all of us can come closer to replicating than we really want to believe.

You can read my entire interview with Lawrence, who, at 72 years old last year, told me he’s never planning to retire.


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