Op-Ed: What Martin Luther King Jr. day means to me

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The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”-Martin Luther King Jr.

January 16 is a day that we not only remember a brave man, but we remember a movement that continues today.

Associated Press

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday in the United States that is celebrated on the third Monday of January each year. It is a day to honor the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and civil rights leader who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. The holiday was first observed in 1986, and it is a time to remember King’s message of equality and nonviolent social change. Many people use the day to volunteer in their communities or participate in events that celebrate King’s legacy.

Why do I celebrate?

As a black woman living in 2023, I have gone through many hardships. From racism, microaggressions, and being treated unfairly, when I think of MLK, I think of hope. Martin Luther King Jr. may not have seen much change in his life but I hope that I can make a difference even if it’s small to make life better for black people and people who see themselves as minorities. I am discouraged when I see a video of someone being treated like they are less than others. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity no matter who you are or where you come from.

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Being born in the United States and then growing up in Hampton as well as, other places in Canada, no matter the place I have experienced racism. Unfortunately, a lot of people in Saint John think that there isn’t racism happening because it isn’t happening to them, but it happens all the time here. Here is why Martin Luther King Jr. Day means so much to me and why it gives me hope that over time thingscan and will change! Here is my story!

Hi, my name is Melanie Clark. At a young age, I was adopted from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. I grew up in Hampton where unfortunately racism was ever-present. It was hard to make friends and overall, it was hard to be different.
Even going to the beach with my family was hard since I could feel people staring at us.

When I was younger it’s just a faint memory, but I remember being invited to a birthday party by one of the “popular kids” and made to feel like a fool. In middle school, it was hard since people thought I was doing things to get attention which I wasn’t. I was once told by a guy I had a crush on that he didn’t want to date me because I was black. In high school, it was hard since I tried to fit in by doing my hair like everyone else.

Associated Press

Also, I was called the n-word and got peer pressured into a fight that I didn’t want to be in because of it. I lost quite a few
friends and after that fight, I felt like I was alone, and it was hard. As time went on and I entered college I still felt out of place. Even when I went to my internship and then ultimately got fired for things, I felt I wasn’t being properly taught to do.

The dating world was and is still hard since I don’t want to be people’s first black girl, I want people to get to know me first. Even as a black rugby player, I’ve called myself the “token black girl” but really on the inside, I’m insecure about being the only black person on the team. As adulthood continues, I’ve had hard times with the police and getting them to listen to me and not disregard what I have to say. It’s like they see black first and that’s it. I’ve had at least two anxiety attacks over all this stuff happening.

Associated Press

Some days, to be honest, I say I’m fine but inside I’m sad for my race. When people say “All lives matter” it just feels like people don’t care about us black people. Also, a lot of people don’t think any of this stuff happens in Saint John, but it does. I can recall two instances when I was peppered with unnecessary questions and made to feel uncomfortable over being black. I’ve had to buy noise-canceling headphones just to avoid them, but they keep coming.

In schools, they mostly teach white history but there seems to be little to no history of indigenous or black people built into the education system. Even after coming to University, I feel like there aren’t enough specialized classes specifically looking at Indigenous or Black history. Here in Saint John, I’ve experienced times with Landlords that have been nothing but unpleasant.

I know when I’m not being treated fairly. Even when the cruise ships come into port, I’m still asked if I’m a tourist because of my skin color. At first, it didn’t bother me but over time I started to avoid uptown for that reason. Even being told I’m not black enough to know how to do my girl’s hair has been very hurtful to me since I’m trying my best.

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Some may say “oh this doesn’t matter!” but in my life it does, and it’s affected me in my day-to-day life. It may be different from the experience of Black people in the US, but it is still racism. Thank you for reading!

As you read above as a black woman growing up in the Maritimes, I’ve faced many situations. Martin Luther King fought for rights for everyone, not just what seems like the majority. I may not be able to fill his shoes, but as we celebrate this day, I hope that I can help educate people further on how change can be achieved! Don’t forget about the struggles black people have had to go through, to get to where they are at today.

I’ll end with this amazing quote by this amazing man: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”– Martin Luther King Jr.

Melanie is mom of two daugters who are her world. She studies Political Science. She's learned a lot throughout her life and went to culinary school before she ended up at UNB. Fun fact about Melanie: she loves squirells!