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Reflection: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2022 | President’s Blog

January 17, 2022

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Matthew 5:6 (NIV)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first established as a federal holiday in 1983, with the first official federal observance of the day coming in January of 1986. I was an elementary school student at the time. So, for most of my life, there has been an annual, national celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy.

Dr. King has always been one of my heroes. There is no person, outside of my parents and grandparents, whose life and leadership has had a greater impact on my thinking, my service, my Christian faith, and my career. As such, our annual celebration of Dr. King’s birthday is very special for me.

I have fond memories of celebrating Dr. King’s birthday at school and church. But my greatest King Day memories are celebrating the day with my father. Typically, we would attend a community event where we heard from local and state leaders, offering reflections on the impact of Dr. King’s life and legacy and what his life meant for our community in the present. Some years we participated in the city’s annual march or attended a King Day parade. Those experiences were more formative for me than I realized at the time.

Today, as I celebrate my first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with the Houghton College community, I am thankful. I am thankful for Dr. King’s courage, rooted in his Christian faith. I am thankful for his willingness to fearlessly put his faith in Christ into action, as he challenged the inhumanity of Jim Crow and the injustice of racial discrimination and segregation. I am thankful for Dr. King’s many sacrifices; ultimately sacrificing his life for the cause of justice. His dream—that our nation might:

“make real the promises of democracy…rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice…[and] open the doors of opportunity to all of Gods children.”

It is not lost on me, not today, not any day, that there is a direct relationship between Dr. King’s courageous leadership and sacrifices and the opportunities I have experienced in my own life. I had the opportunity to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees from universities that did not admit black students until the 1950s. I was privileged to earn tenure as a faculty member at a university whose first black faculty member was hired in 1969, to lead a southern state’s public education system, and to serve as an academic dean at a university whose first black student graduated in 1970. So yes, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2022, as I lead Houghton College, an institution sponsored by a denomination (The Wesleyan Church) rooted in the abolition of slavery, I am thankful. I am thankful that our Lord saw fit to call and equip Martin Luther King, Jr. for Christian leadership and service. I am thankful for Dr. King’s willingness to answer God’s call, and for his faithfulness to the work God called him to.

Stock photo of the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument at sunrise

As Christians and as Highlanders, let us use this day to recommit ourselves to working together, with love and humility, to ensure that our college and our communities are places of peace and justice for all.

But in addition to being thankful, I feel an enormous degree of responsibility. In recognizing that the leadership, service, and sacrifices of Dr. King and so many others have led to the freedom and opportunity I hold so dear, I humbly take on the responsibility of continuing to work to ensure that our nation is, in fact, one where:

“the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners can sit together at the table of brotherhood;”

where our children are:

“not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character;”

and where:

“little black boys and black girls… join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Our nation has undeniably made great strides. I thank God that my daughter has freedoms and opportunities that my parents and grandparents did not have as children. But work remains to be done. We can and we must celebrate the tremendous progress of our nation while also recognizing the work that remains. As Christians and as Highlanders, let us use this day to recommit ourselves to working together, with love and humility, to ensure that our college and our communities are places of peace and justice for all.


President Wayne D. Lewis Jr.

About the Author

With 20 years of experience in education, higher education leadership is a calling for Wayne D. Lewis, Jr., President of Houghton College. He is recognized as being a champion for students; focusing on improving educational access, opportunities and experiences for students, including those who have historically been underserved.

Read More about President Lewis