This Jan. 17, please join me in celebrating the life, influence and contributions of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This will mark the 37th year our country has honored Dr. King’s birthday as a federal holiday and I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect upon how he impacted our society with his philosophy of embracing equality and rejecting bigotry and segregation.
Dr. King served as one of my earliest mentors while I was a student at Alabama State College in Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1950s. I attended church in northern Montgomery where Dr. King served as the pastor. I had the privilege of listening and observing him firsthand.
In Alabama, I experienced many challenges and frustrations due to segregation. African Americans were not allowed to drink at certain water fountains. We were prohibited from sitting in certain seats on buses and banned from eating at many restaurants.
Following the lead of Dr. King, Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders, I participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ultimately led to the desegregation of the public transit system. This peaceful protest taught me the importance of perseverance and working together toward a common goal.
To this day, I remain impacted by Dr. King’s teachings. His values and dignified behavior continue to inspire and resonate with me. I fondly remember Dr. King attending my college basketball games and staying afterward to offer me words of encouragement and support. He made a difference in my life.
As I consider the legacy of Dr. King in my life, I also find myself reflecting on my tenure as your Secretary of State. This year will be my 24th and final year as Illinois Secretary of State. I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to serve the people of Illinois for six terms in this capacity.
Sixty-three years ago, I established the Jesse White Tumbling Team as a way to give back to the community and to help young people in need of support and guidance. Because of my desire to help others, I became a teacher and a public servant. I cannot imagine that I would have become the first African American elected as Illinois Secretary of State in 1998 without Dr. King’s influence on my life and on society as a whole.
On this holiday, let us work to emulate Dr. King’s philosophy through our own lives. Let us commit ourselves to the following: never discriminate or dislike someone because of race, creed or color; learn to love your fellow man and woman; do something good for someone every day; and give back to those less fortunate when you become successful. If we do these things, we honor Dr. King through our actions.
-Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State