On October 16th, thousands of people converged on Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. to attend the dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther, Jr. Memorial led by President Obama. To visit the memorial you'll need to locate 1964 Independence Avenue in the nation's capital, the official address of the monument. History buffs will quickly note the connection between the address and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A truly monumental moment but I’ve often wondered if these types of tributes hamper future generation’s attempts to make change? In some circles, it's almost sacrilege to imply that the average person could even emulate, never mind surpass, the achievements of a Dr. King or similar historical giant. With an almost godly status attached to the memory of these individuals, it’s not hard to understand why many feel today's civil rights leaders don't measure up.
It goes without saying that statues and holidays named in honor of great Americans play an important role in our society. These public displays of respect and gratitude allow us to show our appreciation for these historical icons and in the case of Dr. King, provide some closure. But at what cost to future generations are these tributes damaging? When a child believes that the accomplishments of her ancestors are somehow demonstrative of super godlike powers, that same child may set-aside thoughts of making similar contributions to society. I’ve been a teacher for close to twenty years but I still recall with sadness the day one of my middle school students argued that there could “never be another Martin Luther King.” At that time, he had no idea how wrong his statement was.
As the saying goes, “No man is an island unto himself.” With the support of dedicated people and the determination to improve the lives of others, ordinary people can achieve great things. So as we erect statues and rename streets in someone’s honor, we must remember to teach our children about the ordinary men and women behind the godly personas. I can't imagine any greater tribute we can pay to those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.