I remember being in my early weeks as a senior in high school when then President Ronald Reagan, though reluctantly, signed a bill that created a holiday honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In my Senior Memory Book commemorating my 1984 graduation, I wrote down that moment - the signing of the bill - as the most memorable day of my senior year.
There was a time in my life that I was beyond fascinated by Dr. King. Not just for what he'd done, but I was captivated by who he was...the man. As a child, I thought that he bore an odd, but distinct, resemblence to my dad. Both physically and otherwise. The relatively short statue, the calculated speech, the identical mustaches and similar lips, the title of "Reverend"...they all added up to make me feel like I had some strange personal connection with "the King." Maybe I did...maybe I still do...maybe we all do.
As a young writer, before I even knew I was a writer; some of my earliest poems were about Dr. King. His life. His ministry. His impact. His dream. In fact, it was a poem I wrote about him that won me my first literary award. I was honored with being named the winner of the citywide poetry contest in my then hometown of Valdosta, Georgia in 1992 for a poem I wrote simply entitled, Dr. Martin Luther King. I still have the $50.00 American Express savings bond that was the grand prize (smile). In a sense, it can be said that Dr. King and the impact of his legacy on my life played a pivotal role in the launch of my career as a writer. It would be a few years later before I would pick up a pen to write an actual novel, but the foundation had been laid.
So today...on this Martin Luther King Day of 2009, I salute a man who I never knew. A man I never had the priviledge to meet. A man who died at the young age of thirty-nine, yet lived a life that was fuller and more accomplishing than many men who live to be twice as old. A man whose existence impacted the lives of many little girls just like me, who were barely learning to walk and talk as he was being laid to rest. Today, I celebrate and thank God for the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.