How Has Dr. King's Legacy Changed Lives?

While Hurricane Irene hit during the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication, R. Fenimore Fisher reflected on how Dr. King's actions changed the law that changed society.

By R. Fenimore Fisher


R. Fenimore Fisher is the managing partner of the R. Fenimore Fisher Group, a global diversity and inclusion and labor-conflict resolution consultancy firm. Prior to that, Fisher served as vice president of diversity and employment analysis for Wal-Mart Stores and as executive director of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Wall Street Project in New York.

In my living room hangs a framed issue of the New York Daily News from March 10, 1965, entitled "Selma March Rolled Back … They Yield to Troopers." Hurricane Irene left extensive flood and wind damage along its path through the Caribbean, the United States and Canada in 2011. Irene just happened to put in an appearance during the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication, the effects of which I began noticing during the civil-rights luncheon. As I listened to individuals such as Martin Luther King III, Julian Bond and Rev. Jesse Jackson, I began to reflect upon that framed newspaper back home in Jersey.

Specific to the topic of how Dr. King's legacy changed lives, what strikes me the most is not his legacy but his direct actions. The front page of the newspaper has a photograph of Dr. King flanked by Methodist Bishop John Wesley Lord and CORE director James Farmer as they are leading a march fighting for the right to vote. Dr. King's actions changed the law that changed society. Our lives would be dramatically different if there had not been this very focused approach of combining appealing to people's consciences along with direct confrontation of an inequitable justice system. While listening to remarks and hearing thunder take over the acoustics of the convention center's massive hall, I couldn't help but be reflective. Just after trying to figure out how to handle an earthquake, now we have a hurricane all during the memorial dedication.

Dr. King once said, "An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." This has so much application to our lives today. Further, it is the absence of laws such as a national approach to confronting the volatile effects of bullying in schools, a lack of basic cultural competence among our leaders who still make horrific lapses by using blatant stereotypes in remarks and global inequities and persecutions that show us that Dr. King's model of social justice has significant relevance today.

Many people like to speculate on what Dr. King would be focused on if he were alive today. I won't do that. I'll only go as far to say, after glancing again at the picture in the Daily News where Andrew Young is standing protectively in front of Dr. King in Selma, that he would be focused on action that drives us to fight for the most basic of human rights. He built a movement that literally impacted the entire world. He was such an innovator showing us over 50 years ago the power of inclusion. He changed our lives individually by changing the law but also left an imprint on society, showing it how to perform at its best when we view each other through unfiltered lenses.

Read other accounts on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Before MLK, None of My Accomplishments Would Have Been Possible

DiversityInc's Denyse Leslie, senior vice president of consulting, draws a parallel between Dr. King's firsts (first arrest, first book published, first Black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize) and the firsts of Blacks still alive (or recently deceased) as they live out Dr. King's vision.

Taking Risks for Your Brothers: The Power of Martin Luther King's Words

Human-rights activist Raymond Brown learned about the need for humanity from Dr. King.

Civil-Rights Progress: Helping LGBT Youth

GLSEN's Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard notes how Dr. King's message that Black people would eventually reach the promised land is a reminder today that progress, no matter how slow, is crucial.

What Dr. King Really Meant: The Obligation That Benefits Everyone

Why is the business case for diversity a reality and not just a theory? It is directly due to Dr. King and the civil-rights era, explains DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti.

For more on Black History and the civil-rights movement, read "Discover America′s Black History" and "Re-Centering the History in Black History."

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