"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." - Martin Luther King Jr.
During King's life, and even now, he is the face of the civil rights movement. In 1958, he saw the first Civil Rights Act passed by Congress since reconstruction. Three years later, the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation in interstate travel, thanks to the work by King and the Freedom Riders.
On June 23, 1963, King led a 125,000-person Freedom Walk in Detroit. Roughly a month later, on Aug. 28, the March on Washington took place, which was the largest civil rights demonstration in history, with 250,000 in attendance. It's the march that, even when seen in pictures now, brings pause at the sheer number of attendees. Of course, at that very march, King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.
King was then in attendance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed on July 2. It was a landmark piece of legislation that outlawed major forms of discrimination.
In 1966, King and others started the March Against Fear through the South.
A year later he announced the inception of the Poor People's Campaign, which focused on jobs and freedom for the poor of all races.
These are just a handful of King's achievements, and though the idea of civil rights is greater than any one person, there still is work that needs to be done.
Murray A. Fortner, the chairman of sociology and psychology department at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, said that the country is in need of a 21st-century black civil rights movement.
Fortner said that the '60s provided an excellent model for mass change. The black media, churches and colleges worked together for a common agenda in improving living conditions for the children.
Today, he states, there are many isolated programs, and they aren't working in a comprehensive manner toward a single goal. For there to be true progress, he believes everyone and everything should be pulling in the same direction.
No other place do we see this more than in our education system. This is an issue that hits every race, gender and lifestyle. Former presidential nominee Mitt Romney even went as far as to call education among minority students to be the "civil rights issue of our era" during his campaign.
Fortner believes that it will take a collaborative effort of community leaders to reverse the current trends. It also will take a change in perspective; students should be less concerned with learning for the purpose of earning. Rather, he said that it is important to rekindle the spark of wanting to learn and educate one's self.
Around this time people always try to think and imagine what King would say and feel about today's society. It's quite likely that he would see and approve of many of the strides that have been made and continue to be made.
But, it's also likely he would see that we still have a long way to go. And one way to start gaining more tolerance and understanding, so that we, as a people, can truly judge one another on the content of their character instead of the color of their skin, is to take responsibility as a community for each and every one of our students.
It takes a village to raise a child, and King's teachings are anchored in helping our fellow brothers and sisters to allow them to lift themselves up in that village, and in society as a whole. What better place to start than helping to bridge the gaps in our schools?