Thiele: In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Think About What We Can Do for Others

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” That might not be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous quote, but it’s among his most powerful. For our nation’s most celebrated civil rights leader, fighting for equality went hand in hand with helping others in need. That’s what set Dr. King apart, what made him such an extraordinary figure in such extraordinary times. On Monday, January 20th, when we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we should consider following his lead and spending some time “doing for others.”

Dr. King’s legendary heroism must be recalled each year around this time. A humanitarian, he dedicated his life to battling social injustice and was one of the most influential forces behind the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. He once said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” In the state Assembly, I have tried to live up to his philosophy that we should act now when it comes to improving the lives of the citizens of our State.

A growing problem in New York and across the country is the ever-expanding gap between the wealthy and the middle class and poor. Combating income inequality and spurring upward mobility are defining issues of our time, and they were also central to Dr. King’s agenda. I successfully fought to increase the State’s minimum wage in the 2013-14 State Budget – a much-needed boost to the working poor – but there is a lot more work to do. That is why I support accelerating the next increase to $9.00 per hour a full year ahead of schedule. Increasing wages for hardworking families and creating more good-paying jobs must be the goal of every elected official, and it’s what I will be focused on in Albany in 2014.

Dr. King placed a great emphasis on education, and so do I – providing our children with a sound education has always been one of my top priorities. Dr. King once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically ... intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Unfortunately, providing a top-notch education has become more and more challenging, especially for our high-need schools. Forcing teachers to do more with less, yet expecting better outcomes, is unrealistic at best. That’s why every year I call on our leaders to increase funding for our schools and work to ensure the needs of our educators and students are being met, in the spirit of Dr. King’s vision.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is more than a day off from work or school – it’s a day to reflect on the achievements of a true American hero. It’s also a time to help those in need, to have a good answer to Dr. King’s profound question: “What are you doing for others?”