Features
8:32 am
Fri January 18, 2013

Does The Legacy Of American Martin Luther King Jr. Mean Anything If You're Not From America?

Martin Luther King Jr., here in 1964, would have been 84 January 16.
Credit Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress

Americans are well-aware of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. His fight for justice was aimed at changing the world, but during the fifties and sixties sought to resonate most heavily in his home country. Today his legacy has been celebrated tenfold – there are numerous streets and landmarks dedicated in his honor, the government designated his birthday as a national holiday in 1986, and just last year he became the first African American to have a monument designed in his honor on the National Mall.

Erin Williams interviews individuals born outside of the United States on what Martin Luther King day means to them.

But, if the United States isn’t your home country, what does Martin Luther King Day mean to you? Maybe you are from a country that experienced its own war-torn history, or his presence just wasn’t that focused on in your country’s history books. Once the day rolls around, do you celebrate, count it as just another day, or reflect?

Sukrija Dzidovic, publisher of St. Louis’ Bosnian newspaper, SabaH, came to the United States in 1995. Growing up in his native country, he says the idea of Dr. King stood out to him and other Bosnians because they simply didn’t know of or hadn’t seen any other black people.

Dzidovic says he was glad to realize how much freedom African Americans had once he arrived. On MLK Day, Dzidovic he has always made sure to include articles on King in his paper to serve as a reminder of his work.

“Unfortunately we didn’t have such a person in our country before war, so war won’t happen in Bosnia if we had Dr. Martin Luther King in our country,” he says. “Every country needs a person like he was to  open our eyes to people before blood starts to [shed].”

Juan Montana, a St. Louis-based photographer and social activist who is from Colombia, remembers hearing about his work in the Civil Rights Movement in high school, but didn’t understand the impact of his work until he began focusing on social issues. His message of equality and fighting for human rights stood out the most to Montana, but he doesn’t think that other Latinos are as aware.

Says Montana, “I think a lot of people don’t know enough. I think  Latinos, given the situation in which we are now, the issues that have been going on the past few years, we should know much better what he stood for and what his life is supposed to teach us.”

He understands that just because there is one day dedicated to honoring King, that his message can be put into action well after the parades and fanfare are over.

“The fight for equality and equal rights goes every day, so if you believe in his legacy then you are probably fighting every day. It’s not so much about his birthday.”

Born and raised in a war-torn Afghanistan, Ahmad Barekzai was fully aware of a life lived under struggle and turmoil. When he was 15, his brother brought home a contraband book that first introduced him to Martin Luther King. His interest was piqued by King’s idea of nonviolent solutions to the struggle.

Barekzai first studied the teaching of Islam when he arrived in the United States twelve years ago, but as he began working with the underprivileged, identified more with the teachings of Dr. King.

“It gave me more of a sense like how I can help people - oppressed people – how can I stand for their rights,” he remembers. “He was more effective to me – the way that he acted was more effective than the other movements that I noticed.”

He now works at the International Institute. As for his home country, he feels that it’s up to the next generation to change things.

“The doors are open and we can export new ideas. Same old Martin Luther King, but it’s new to some people there, and they learn from it a lot.”

Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, and would have been 84 this year. His nonviolent teachings and speeches still continue to make an impact today. There are a number of events occurring in the area to celebrate his legacy – check out our list.