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January 13, 2012 > A man with a dream to change the world

A man with a dream to change the world

By Mauricio Segura

The week began with Michael's flight to Memphis being delayed for hours due to a bomb threat. Not a surprise considering the way his life had been going the last few years, but definitely an inconvenience. Regardless, his work ethic and dedication helped him overcome obvious fatigue to deliver a moving speech to over 15,000 people at the Mason Temple downtown.

The following day, April 4, was one of those ideal cold and rainy days, perfect for staying in bed and getting lost in a good book. And after the last couple of days, Michael welcomed the opportunity to spend it relaxing in his motel room. With a dinner and speech scheduled that evening, he prepared as he had done so many times before for one of these functions.

Running a little late with some of his friends already waiting by the car, Michael emerged from room 306 into the chilly, overcast southern air. Without warning, time suddenly froze in dark terror. Michael, who for the last decade had traveled 6 million miles, given 2,500 speeches, and authored five popular books, lay dead at the age of 39. The victim of a sniper's bullet.

Though it was his physical life which ended, his legacy has endured. And to understand the legacy, you must understand the life.

Like the famous Dusty Springfield song, "Son of a Preacher Man," Michael was the middle child of reverend Michael Sr. and his wife Alberta. Growing up in Atlanta, he heard and witnessed first hand the injustice against people of color. Mentally gifted, Michael skipped both the 9th and 12th grades at Booker T. Washington High School before entering Morehouse College at just 15 years of age. He earned a degree in sociology and theology, followed by a PH.D. a few years later from Boston College. By the time he was 25, Michael was a husband, a father, and pastor of his own church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Race tensions were at an all-time high in the south. Colored people were segregated like cattle in a slaughter house. There were "black only" restaurants, rest rooms, drinking fountains, and swimming pools. About the only things blacks and whites were allowed to share was oxygen and buses, though they had to ride the latter in the back. This all culminated with the unjust arrest of a 15-year-old girl named Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a full bus.

Michael's involvement and support of Parks and the fight for equality between blacks and whites brought him notoriety in the early days of the civil rights movement. What ensued became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Lasting 381 days, the boycott left the public transportation system in a crippling financial deficit. With no black people riding the buses, and the black taxi drivers helping by charging only a dime (the equivalent of a bus ride), the U.S. Supreme Court was forced to step in and eventually rule that bus segregation was an unconstitutional act. This was a major win in the civil rights movement, but only the beginning for the cause.

Soon after, a trip through India introduced Michael to Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy and peaceful nonviolent approach to acquire change. Taking this to heart, Michael returned to the U.S. refreshed with a dream and determined to make that dream a reality.

The last decade of his life was spent fully dedicated to improve the rights of blacks in a white culture dominated society. He organized protests and marches, spoke to audiences thousands deep, and negotiated with top political figures, celebrities, and common folk alike, to make sure his dream survived beyond his own physical mortality. He was loved by millions, but those who hated him did so with a passion like no other.

A sniper's bullet may have taken his life that spring evening years ago, but his legacy lives on and continues to inspire even beyond the cause he fought his entire life for. Michael was a pioneer who laid down his life as a modern day martyr.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, you should be very familiar with Michael. You had to have studied about him in school. And if you can't recall him from there, you definitely hear about him each year as his legacy is honored nationwide.

Michael, as his name appears on his official birth certificate, might not necessarily be the name you know him by. When "little Mikey" (as he was known to family and friends then) was five years old, his father changed both of their names. From that point on, the boy who grew up to into the man with a dream to change the world became known to all as Martin... Martin Luther King Jr.

January 16 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in celebration of his birthday on the 15th. Throughout the country parades, peace marches, memorials, and service activities are held in his honor. King is the only individual in the United States to have a holiday all his own. Even the presidents we honor yearly have shared holidays. It's a true testament to the impact he had on the nation.

For those wanting to celebrate the day with a local activity, James Logan High School in Union City will be hosting the MLK Speech and Debate Tournament Friday, January 13 through Sunday, January 15. The event is open to the public and free of charge. For more information, visit

For something more hands on, assist park staff at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland in habitat restoration and invasive plant removal. Advanced registration is encouraged. Call 1-888-327-2757 or visit for more information and to register.

Join the celebration at Hayward's City Hall Plaza, which includes local youth choirs, a rally and peace march, music, and the words of Dr. King. Carry your organizational banner and wear national dress.

Beginning at 6 p.m. Chabot College in Hayward will be having a birthday celebration, co-sponsored by Hayward South Alameda County NAACP, Chabot Community College, and the City of Hayward. Admission is free.

James Logan High School MLK Speech and Debate Tournament
Friday, January 13, (late afternoon and evening)
Saturday, January 14 (all day)
Sunday, January 15 (all day)
James Logan High School
1800 H Street, Union City
(510) 471-2520

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service
Monday, January 16
8:30 a.m. - noon
Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline
Doolittle Dr. and Swan Way, Oakland

Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
Monday, January 16
9:30 a.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B St., Hayward
(510) 270-8399

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration
Monday, January 16
Pre-show video - 6 p.m.
Event starts - 6:30 p.m.
Chabot College
Reed L. Buffington Performing Arts Center
25555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward
(510) 723-6600

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