Remembering the life and legacy of Dr. King

Published on January 15, 2021
A graphic quoting MLK: "Whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly."

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Click here to read a message from Bishop Walkowiak on the celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On April 4, 1968, Baptist minister and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated. From the mid-1950s up until his death, fueled by his Christian faith and community, he led the civil rights movement in the United States. Through non-violent resistance and with a desire to do God’s will, he fought for justice in the face of years of ridicule, threats and violence.

As we look ahead to the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Monday, Jan. 18, we take time to remember his life, work and legacy.


Masses, prayer services and other events in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (The National Black Catholic Congress)
Combating Racism Begins Within, by Bishop Walkowiak (FAITH Grand Rapids magazine, Jan/Feb 2020)

On the USCCB website:

What must never be forgotten, by Shannen Dee Williams
USCCB president calls for building the “Beloved Community,” inspired by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s example (Jan. 16, 2020)
U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter against racism: Open Wide our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love (bilingual)

Remembering Dr. King

Read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written in April 1963
Read a reflection on Dr. King’s legacy, by Bishop Walkowiak (FAITH Grand Rapids magazine, April 2018)

Striving for justice, peace and an end to racism

The Family: The School of Love

While racism is often tragically passed down through families, the family also offers the best antidote to all forms of fear and prejudice because it is in the family where we can encounter unconditional love, which echoes God’s love for us.

How can we rely more on God’s love and teach our children to love everyone? Consider these examples:

  • Pray together daily: Pray for the needs of others in your neighborhood, community, and beyond. Help your children to see the needs of people who are different from them. Help your family to see the face of Christ in every person.
  • Practice the art of conversation daily: Eat dinner together as a family—without mobile devices—and find other ways to spend time together. Have real conversations, at an age-appropriate level, about challenges or events that are in the news.
  • Practice hospitality and love of neighbor: Get to know your neighbors’ names and needs, show concern for them, pray for them, and assist them when possible. No family is perfect, but every family can grow in love. (from Responding to the Sin of Racism)

Love of neighbor

When asked which was the first of all the commandments, Jesus replied the first is this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

And the second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mk 12: 28-31). The sin of racism is the opposite of love. We are all called, therefore, to oppose racism in our communities.

Loving neighbors who are different from us through kind and generous actions can be as simple as forming friendships, supporting minority-owned businesses, or participating in community activities with those of other faiths or other races.

Loving God obligates us to love our neighbors as well. (from Responding to the Sin of Racism)

Racism is a pro-life issue

When racism permeates our thoughts, it shows forth in our words and actions, revealing prejudices that prevent us from viewing each individual we encounter as a child of God created equally.

The Catholic Church is very clear: racism and every form of discrimination based on “sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Catechism, par. 1935 and Gaudium et Spes, no. 29).

We are called to work to protect the dignity of all members of one human family by confronting racism in all its forms and by welcoming and celebrating the diversity of the many faces of the children of God in our communities. Building unity in diversity is an essential part of our mission of discipleship. (from Responding to the Sin of Racism)

What are we called to do?

Consider the following for reflection and to generate dialogue:
The answer is Christ, and Christ calls for our conversion. His first words in the Gospel are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17).

  • Events unfolding over the last few years, days and hours all point to the need that we, as a nation, as a people, have for conversion.
  • Conversion requires prayerful self-reflection. As a nation, we need to self-reflect on what aspects of our communal and civil structures divide and separate us. How are they covertly racist? As a Church, we need to self-reflect on how we have been unwelcoming to the stranger, the person of a different race, or the immigrant. We need to self-reflect on how we have not challenged the sin of racism enough. More so, we must listen to persons of a different race and listen to the immigrant. And when we think we have listened, we must listen again. We must hear the story and begin to share the journey more deeply. Let us come together in the love of Christ to better know one another as sisters and brothers.
  • And in order for our nation and our church to be healed of the sin of racism, each one of us needs to reflect and be healed. We may not think of ourselves as racist, or being prejudiced, or intolerant but is that entirely the case? Intolerance and bias can hide in our attitudes and arrogance. Where are the places in our own heart that might harbor hostility, concealed discrimination and prejudice?
  • Conversion requires courageous and ongoing self-reflection, it requires each of us to examine our conscience humbly before Christ.
  • We must be contemplative enough to allow the Lord to work in the depth of our heart on these issues. What is the Holy Spirit calling you to do, together with your family, neighborhood, parish, school, or other faith community? What will be your first step?

Take Action

Five ways you can cultivate peace and work for racial justice (USCCB Blog “To go forth”)

Additional resources

Educational resources (USCCB)
U.S. Bishops establish ad hoc committee on racism (Aug. 2017)
Read Brothers and Sisters to Us – the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter on racism, 1979 and the
25th anniversary update to the letter, 2004

Start Enrolling

Fill out this form, and a Catholic school admissions expert will guide you the rest of the way!

Age group (check all that apply)
11 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4. This helps us know you're not a bot.