This year, Martin Luther King Day is on Monday, January 21 2013. The first one was on January 20, 1986 as a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King. Through fifteen years of the persistent efforts of Congress Members John Conyers (Michigan), Shirley Chisholm (New York) and an army of other supports, Martin Luther King Day legislation was passed in 1983. A number of changes were required for it to be acceptable as a federal holiday. The date was changed to the third Monday in January, rather than his birthday of January 15, so as to distance it from Christmas and New Years. Several states resisted celebrating the holiday for various reasons. Several southern states included celebrations for various Confederate generals on that day. Arizona voters didn’t approve the holiday until 1992 after pressure from a tourist boycott. Only recently in 2000 was it first officially observed in all 50 states.
Ironically in 2008, the original Martin Luther King Day of January 20 fell on the inauguration of the first acknowledged African American President. Barack Obama’s “This is your victory” election day speech spoke of a nation of hope “where all things are possible”. “Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a bit better than the one we inhabit today”.
Advocates of Martin Luther King Day promote it as a day to focus on service activities using the motto “make it a Day ON, Not a Day Off!”. In fact, the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act designates the holiday as a national day of volunteer service, asking “Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action.”
Martin Luther King brought together a diverse cross-section of the American citizenry to break down barriers and join forces in a common cause of justice and equity. Unfortunately, we still have much further to go in achieving diversity and inclusion in engineering. Community service learning projects have been proven to be an effective tool in developing integrative thinking and societal context in engineering education, as well as a means of attracting and motivating underrepresented engineers. One of the most successful efforts is the EPICS (Engineering Projects for Community Service) program originated in the College of Engineering at Purdue and the 2005 winner of the National Academy of Engineering‘s prestigious Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on Martin Luther King and community service learning. Or view our Engineering Diversity or our Computing Diversity educational community sites. View our December 10th Engineering Education blog on the anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize. The title of his Nobel lecture was “The Quest for Peace and Justice”.