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MLK was a Force for Change in Education and Workforce Development 
By Michael Lawson, President/CEO  L.A. Urban League 
Published January 19, 2023

Dr. Martin Luther King speaks March 25, 1967 at the Chicago peace march. (AP Photo/Chick Harrity)

On Monday, January 16, we celebrated the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights and social justice champion in the US and beyond. The outstanding work of Rev. Dr. King transformed society for the better and continues to inspire our march toward economic empowerment, equity, and equality.  

 We cannot understate Rev. Dr. King’s vision and unbridled advocacy for African Americans and other underserved communities that were denied access to quality education, equitable-paying jobs, and access to capital, credit, and housing under redlining, Jim Crow laws, and other forms of discrimination throughout the United States. 

 Rev. Dr. King, Jr. didn’t work alone. He often collaborated with Whitney M. Young, Jr., then president of the National Urban League, as well as our own Rev. James M Lawson, Jr., a leading theoretician and tactician of nonviolence within the Civil Rights Movement who served as a mentor to the Nashville Student Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee throughout the critical years of the civil rights movement. Together, Rev. Dr. King, Jr., Whitney M. Young, Jr., and Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. created a movement that continues today. 

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 In addition to legal reforms, Rev. Dr. King, Jr. encouraged students to take action in their community by organizing rallies and marches for equal educational opportunities for all children. His work, and those who worked with him, helped create a movement that continues to have lasting effects. To this day, there are still ongoing efforts to address inequalities within the US education system thanks to Rev. Dr. King’s legacy of advocacy and activism. 

Michael Lawson, President/CEO L.A. Urban League (Courtesy photo)

 Rev. Dr. King, Jr. led initiatives throughout his life, striving to create equal employment opportunities for African Americans across all industries. Rev. Dr. King, Jr. also organized strikes and boycotts against discriminatory employers who refused to hire African Americans or pay them fair wages, helping bring awareness to the issue while inspiring others to stand up against injustice in the workplace.   

Rev. Dr. King Jr.’s efforts also helped African Americans and other minorities attain college degrees and high-paying employment opportunities in major corporations and city, county, state, and federal governmental agencies as segregation Jim Crow laws began to fall away across the country. While our work towards equal job opportunities continues today, it would not have been possible without Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s passionate fight for justice inside and outside the workplace during his tenure as one of the most prominent leaders in the Civil rights Movement from 1955-1968. 

 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s commitment to civil rights extended beyond just advocating for political change—it involved ensuring everyone had access to fundamental human rights like quality education and fair employment opportunities regardless of race or economic status. His tireless work toward creating equal rights for all citizens has indelibly affected our society today, inspiring generations of activists long after he left us. 

 “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps,” he said. 

 Rev. Dr. King, Jr. worked tirelessly to improve conditions in overcrowded schools and pushed for reform in curriculum design and teacher training programs. His efforts were successful—in 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination based on race in any federally funded program, including public schools. However, there is still much more work that we must do to honor his legacy. 

 We must continue to work to lift up one another. As Rev. Dr. King, Jr. clearly stated, our work will make the most lasting impact. We at the Los Angeles Urban League honor him this MLK day by continuing his work through our political and economic empowerment mission. We will continue to actively engage our communities, educating ourselves on equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism issues, as well as taking actionable steps towards advancing social justice wherever we can. We invite you to join us on our ascent to the mountaintop. 

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