ENHP graduate, Karina Ma, was honored at the January 16, 2012 Martin Luther King Day celebration for her “Lest We Forget” essay. Ms. Ma graduated in December 2011 with a degree in Health Sciences. She plans to go on to dentistry school.
Students were asked to write about why it is important to keep Dr. King’s dream alive and to never forget the civil rights and economic justice movements that he lead. Her evocative essay follows.
Lest We Forget
By utilizing his inspirational tactics, Dr. Martin Luther King was able to change the general views and beliefs of the U.S. people and lead them through the civil rights movement. His attempts to eliminate segregation, inequality, and discrimination were indisputably effective, but were they enough? America has progressed enormously since the civil rights movement which aimed to combat racial stratification, but it is evident that oppression in various other forms now surpasses racism. We must not forget the civil rights and economic justice movements that King led, but instead act to continue these movements and seek change, because the inequality faced by immigrants and the discrimination faced by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community are two major issues that still inevitably exist in America today.
Since the birth of America, immigrants from all different backgrounds have brought forth their cultures and traditions, facilitating the growth of diversity and what America prides itself on as a “melting pot.” People came (and still come) to America from all different walks of life seeking the same things: freedom, equality, and better opportunities. However, they often find that their attempts to seek employment are met with failure; they become stuck with menial jobs, where the exploitation of labor and low wages are not uncommon. In addition to an unequal wealth distribution in the workforce, the lack of acceptance towards immigrants contributes to the difficulty they face trying to access proper health care and education. While their cultural differences and language barriers contribute to their segregation from society, immigrants must also deal with negative stereotyping and animosity from people who see immigrants as inferior to themselves. As a nation, we can step up and seek change—by limiting the ethnocentric thinking that is so ubiquitous in our country, we can aim to curtail the discrimination that prevents immigrants from integrating into the American life.
Discrimination against sexual orientation/preference is another prominent issue that must be eliminated. While many states have passed laws prohibiting discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in the workplace, not enough has been done in schools to combat the discrimination of the LGBT community, which leads to not only a negative effect on the student’s educational success, but a destructive impact on his/her mental health. Because of their sexual preference, these people are deemed outside the “norm.” As a result, society often imposes stigmas upon gay and lesbian individuals, simultaneously implementing preconceived notions based on social constructs that often lead to intolerance and negative judgments. Consequently, many individuals feel overwhelmed and victimized; their attempts to escape rejection often lead to them taking their own lives. Only after countless suicides has the issue of bullying of LGBT teens been brought to light in the media, but even still, hatred and violence towards people with different sexual preferences remain widespread. By eliminating negative social constructs, America as a whole can take a step forward in becoming more tolerant and accepting towards these individuals who seek truth in the statement that “all men are created equal.”
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King stated, “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” Forty-eight years later, the message from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech still remains as powerful and universal in its entirety. Despite social movements promoting equality and civil rights, however, segregation as experienced by immigrants and discrimination in the LGBT community still remain prevalent in our society today. In order for tolerance and equality to finally proliferate, we must recognize and negate social constructs that contribute to discrimination, change our way of thinking and become more accepting. We must act upon the movements that King led and aim to keep his dream alive. In his honor, lest we forget….