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(NNPA)—One of the most important matters that we face in 2011, as we celebrate the 82nd birthday of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the numerous official national, state and local King Holiday observances across the United States, is the question of advancing the social, political, and economic empowerment agenda that Dr. King articulated 37 years ago. King was more than a dreamer. He was a passionate and committed activist leader. He was a preacher of the Gospel and the visionary force of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The Civil Rights Movement under Dr. King’s leadership successfully challenged and transformed American society.

Together the NAACP and SCLC in the 1960s made a big difference in the lives of millions of African-Americans and many others who were crying out for freedom, justice and equality. Today, at a time when there are many counterproductive, revisionist tendencies to deny or play down the reality of the progressive and transformative impact of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, it is critical to distinguish between the myths of those who opposed Dr. King and the realities of those who followed and supported Dr. King.

Voting rights, fair housing rights, economic justice rights, environmental justice rights, quality health care access rights, employment rights, prison reform rights, education equality, and educational reform rights are all fundamental issues that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asserted as priority agenda items. In 2011, these issues are still our priority concerns.

The best way to celebrate Dr. King’s living legacy is to advance the agenda that he gave his life to address. Yes, Dr. King’s dream of equality and empowerment for all is still relevant today. But, the question now is what is it that we must do to fulfill King’s dream? King’s dream was an American dream, but it also was a global dream where all people in all places throughout the world will live and work together as brothers and sisters in the human family in response to the “oneness of God’s love.” The “Beloved Community,” as Dr. King defined it was the ideal community of brotherhood and sisterhood of love and justice for all. King affirmed, “The solidarity of the human family.”

We still must march for voting rights in Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, the Carolinas, and in Virginia. We need educational reform in all 50 states to ensure that our children get a better education. In every region, at the top of the agenda should be the economic development and empowerment of our communities. We have to put pressure on the Congress of the United States not to repeal the historic Health Care Reform Act that was enacted just last year.

Today, there is no question that if Dr. King was with us, he would be advising President Barack Obama to keep pushing forward to make life better for the millions of African-Americans, Latino Americans, and others who are still stuck at the bottom of society in abject poverty and misery. Dr. King would intellectually and spiritually take on the so-called Tea Party and all of its minions who want to take America backward to the days of Jim Crow and overt oppression. One thing for sure, Dr. King was not a coward. He was a fearless leader who used the power of his oratory to remove social fear and doubt from the mindset of millions. That is why this year’s King observances are so very important because we need to refocus and rededicate ourselves to both the dream and the agenda.

I believe Martin Luther King III said it best recently, “I pray that all Americans will embrace the challenge of social justice and the unifying spirit that my father shared with his compatriots. With this commitment, we can begin to find new ways to reach out to one another, to heal our divisions, and build bridges of hope and opportunity benefiting all people. In doing so, we will not merely be seeking the dream; we will at long last be living it.”

In the aftermath of the Tucson Massacre, once again we are all reminded that hatred by an individual or by a group is never the solution to our societal problems. In 2008, the majority of Americans went to the polls to vote for change in a manner that would have pleased Dr. King. In 2011, we are witnessing a growing backlash in public conscience and reaction as if the forces of division are gaining ground. Let’s work to revive the movement for more change. Let’s work to keep Dr. King’s dream and agenda alive and fulfilled.

(Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is senior advisor for the Black Alliance for Educational Options and president of Education Online Services Corp.)

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