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As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I cannot help but feel thankful.

I am thankful for Dr. King’s courage and his conviction in doing what he felt was right. But it is important to remember that actions generated by courage and conviction are not always well-received. As President Obama reminded us during the dedication of the King memorial, Dr. King was often vilified for his stances. On April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church here in New York City, Dr. King delivered an impassioned plea against the Vietnam War. This speech brought criticism from not only foes but friends as well. There were those who disagreed with his view and those who felt he had no business speaking out about it. But this speech and many of Dr. King’s other actions brought about tremendous change in our society.

It is because of Dr. King that as an African American male I can volunteer on the re-election campaign of our country’s first African American President. It is because of Dr. King that in October 2002, a state Senator from Illinois had the opportunity to speak out against what he felt would be an ill-advised war in Iraq. As we reflect on the lessons of Dr. King, we must not forget perhaps the most important one: Dr. King was a tremendous leader, but change is never brought about by just one person. Similarly, the gains we have made over these past few years have been with the President’s leadership and the people’s energy. We have helped bring health care to the uninsured and helped end the war in Iraq. If we are to continue progressing as a society, we must continue to remain engaged. We must display courage and be unafraid to act on our convictions.

As we celebrate Dr. King, let us be thankful for the positive change he brought to our country and the lessons we learned from this dynamic leader. And let us use those lessons to further improve our beautiful country.

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