MLK – Towards a Radical Revolution of Values

There are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which . . . I never intend to become adjusted to — segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence. – Martin Luther King Jr.


This year, January 19 marks the observance of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Almost fifty years ago, on March 25, 1965, Dr. King Jr. helped organize marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., bringing on conversations about race, inequality and civil rights. The current movie Selma dramatizes the Montgomery voting rights marches, reminding us all of the struggles and victories of the civil rights movement.   Dr. King participated in this movement alongside with Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, Stokely Carmichaeland Bayard Rustin, and organizations such as:  Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee( SNCC). The civil rights movement is an unfinished movement, as the principles of peace, equality, and justice that Martin Luther King Jr. among others, stood for are still not fully realized in our society.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is known for winning the Nobel Prize for Peace. Yet, today his aspirations towards peace are almost non-existent in the current political climate. We are a country with over 2.6 million people who served in the Iraq/Afghanistan wars alone. Many of these soldiers have served for multiple deployments and for significantly longer amount of times than in previous wars. We have created a global military culture that encourages veterans to be tough, to silence their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and mental health problems, and nudges all of us towards competition, materialism and violence. Through movies, video games, narratives of war and destruction, our access to weapons, our ideology reflects a discourse of aggression. Perhaps as Dr. King points out we need to

get on the right side of the world revolution [and we] as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.


As one of the many leaders of the civil rights movement, Dr. King also spoke and stood for racial equality. His vision of equality however has not been realized as systemic racism still exists. Practices such as racial profiling, police brutality, income inequality and lack of housing, among other things, are disproportionately impacting black folks. As communities of color confront an alarming level of racism and homophobia, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonate.

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.

Research shows how racism negatively affects the mental health status of African Americans.  Ideological and structural racism perpetuates itself at both the macro-(e.g., group, institution) and microlevels (e.g., interpersonal). Further, racism in society leads to limited socioeconomic mobility, which in turn results in lack resources, poor living conditions and adversely affects mental health. Experiences of discrimination bring about physiological and psychological reactions, leading to adverse changes in mental health status.  Worse, acceptance of negative cultural stereotypes by people of color leads to unfavorable self-evaluations that have deleterious effects on psychological well-being.

Further, experiencing discrimination leads to a higher likelihood of major depression, anxiety disorder and social phobia during one’s lifetime. These associations were present for both African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans, for males and females.

Martin Luther King Jr. also addressed poverty in America. From a mental health perspective poverty is the prototypical risk factor for infant mental health, and research documents how mental health outcomes are related with social class. By being poor one is more likely to be exposed to dangerous environments, work in stressful, unrewarding and depersonalising work, lack the necessities and amenities of life and most likely to be isolated from information and support. The inverse association between socio-economic level and risk of disease is one of the most pervasive and enduring observations in public health (Kaplan et al, 1987).

Persistent economic inequality is undermining some of the most important achievements of the civil rights movement. Although American schools are integrated, in practice, research shows how they are becoming more segregated. As Emily Badger points out, white and black children in kindergarten are much more likely to be separated from each other than whites and blacks in the population at large, this is because black families still can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods with the best schools. As Dr. King eloquently pointed out, true equality needs to encompass economic equality as well.

For we know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?

Although segregation between neighborhoods has been decreasing, the events in Ferguson, Mo. show how the economic results of decades of racially biased business practices and government policies keep low-income blacks from finding a way out. Our current economic system is continuing to cause inequality. As Dr. King said, this might be the time to

civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

This Martin Luther King Day we urge you to remember the civil rights movement, celebrate the successes while remembering that it is our job to continue the struggle. To remember not only Dr. King but the countless individuals who took a stand against racism and inequality and dared to envision a different world.

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