“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, millions of Americans will be honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by taking part in a number of peaceful marches and service projects.
In one of his famous speeches, King said: “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.”
By creed, King was certainly referring to the following memorable words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Today’s young generation needs to realize that the democratic rights they enjoy today did not suddenly arrive in America. Rather, they evolved gradually as the original U.S. Constitution of Sept. 17, 1787, was amended over time with the Bill of Rights and later amendments.
For me, the cause of civil rights and human rights in general is all about fairness, justice, and both equality and equity in this country and beyond. It is about leveling the playing field so that each individual is provided with the same opportunities to realize his or her dream without being hampered by artificial or unnecessary barriers.
It is about removing every type of discrimination in the workplace, including racial or ethnic discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination, and discrimination against physically or mentally challenged workers.
Large percentages of African American workers still report that they experience job discrimination, and others say that employers are not doing enough to ensure equal opportunity for all workers. According to the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), African Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed than whites and they earn nearly 25 percent less when they are employed.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, about half of Hispanics in the U.S. (52 percent) say they have experienced discrimination or have been treated unfairly mainly because of race or ethnicity.
According to a 2008 survey, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) reported that 54 percent of working women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. According to PayScale’s latest data, the uncontrolled gender pay gap showed women made 76 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2016. By contrast, the controlled gender pay gap showed that women earned 98 cents for every dollar made by men. What gets lost in this translation is that women are less likely to hold high-level, high-paying jobs than men, effectively creating a glass ceiling for advancement.
According to 2013 AARP research, 64 percent of workers age 55 or older say they have experienced age discrimination at work. In the early 1990s, about half of disabled Americans were employed, according to Census data. In 2015, that number had fallen to just 41 percent, a decline due to an aging population. Older workers give employers low marks on preventing age discrimination and others report that employers are not doing enough to provide people with disabilities reasonable accommodations that will enable them to work.
The cause of civil rights and human rights is about preserving affirmative action until a time when it will truly not be needed. It is about a system that offers decent wages, decent housing, decent education and decent health care not only to its own citizens, but also to its immigrant and migrant workers who are contributing to the prosperity of this nation.
It is about condemning and punishing hate crimes in a nation that prides itself on tolerance and respect for diversity. We will be stronger and better as a nation if we embrace and build upon the values and dreams we share. We will be diminished if we exaggerate and accentuate our differences. We cannot fight hatemongers and religious intolerance by becoming hateful and intolerant ourselves. We need to firmly stand up for the basic values of liberty, justice, equality, respect and diversity that are the bedrock of America.
The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. was his fight against what he called the triple evils: poverty, racism and violence. I will add ignorance to this list. Here is a short list of what we can all do to fight these evils:
1. Read the Constitution.
2. Know your rights.
3. Become involved in important political or societal issues.
4. Speak up. Don’t remain silent in the presence of injustice or racism.
5. Register to vote. Let your vote be included and make it count.
6. Become active in your church, mosque, synagogue or temple.
7. Volunteer your time and effort toward bettering the lives of others who need help.
8. Join an organization that promotes tolerance and respect for all human beings.
9. Reach out to those groups who may be feeling alienated and marginalized.
10. Always be fair, just and equitable in your dealings with all human beings.
Dr. Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.