(a speech delivered at Housemeeting on Monday, January 19, 2015 in honor of Martin Luther King Day)
Look around the room to all the faces we have here. This room is made up of dreamers, innovators, artists, athletes and so much more. We can sit here today, and enjoy the company of each other because of people who risked everything for what was right. One of those people happen to includes a great man named Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, GA. He was a pastor and civil rights activist between 1955 and 1968 and led non-violent protests to fight for the rights of all people including African Americans. He hoped that America and the world would look past the physical differences of people and unite as one equal and diverse society. He is considered one of the great orators of modern times, and his speeches still inspire many to this day. Though he had the help of millions of Americans, varying from many different ethnic and religious groups, his strong leadership and unprecedented power of speech added to the importance of the legacy he left behind. He was assassinated on the evening of April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city. Dr. King was the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his successful efforts to change a broken nation.
Though it is obvious that MLK changed our nation with his continuous advocating for peace and equality, it took almost 20 years for legislation to be passed by Congress and signed by the President to honour Dr. King with a national holiday. After the government finally acknowledged the need to remember such an important figure, the first MLK day was celebrated Jan. 20, 1986 and is now celebrated on the third Monday of each January. The day is used to commemorate a man who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, a man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped change America and inspired the world while doing it.
Stoneleigh saw the progress of Dr. King's voice through the civil rights movement by admitting its first African-American student here in 1966. She was from Washington, DC where her father was a doctor, and graduated in 1968, a year before Sally did.She became a doctor (ENT) and now lives in LA. In the past, she was on the SBS board of trustees and continues to be a proud alumna of our school, a school that welcomes girls from all backgrounds and places. Prospect Hill, the first of the five merger schools, was founded in 1869. That was almost 100 years without the presence of a mixed environment, unlike the one we find ourselves in today, so how can we not be grateful for those who thought of us during a time where it was normal to be closed off from interacting with our different citizens?
This day is also used to remember all those who used their voices for the change they believed in, the ones that went against societal norms, the daredevils. This includes Malala, a young girl who is using her voice, risking her life, by fighting for education and women's rights. This included Cesar Chavez, an American farm worker who lead non violent protest in regards to the then inhuman labor laws. This includes Victor Basile, an LGBT rights activist who was the first executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. These people and many others are examples of the individuals who are being honoured and congratulated today for their courage to stand whether alone, or with others.
Finally, MLK day is a day to encourage and inspire people to use their voices, whether joining major marches for big governmental issues today or simply being brave enough to disagree in a classroom discussion. Our voices were hard earned. As women, we were deprived from our right to vote and have a presence in society. As African Americans, Latinas, and Asians we were once looked down upon. Now, we have the right to use our voices. And we should. Why? Because our ancestors fought for the freedom we have now and we need to stand up for the change our future generations deserve.
Eni Owoeye, Class of 2018