On Martin Luther King Day, a Call to Imagine What's Next

There are times when the struggles and challenges we face, whether individually or collectively, dominate our outlook and limit our ability to see beyond where we are. But the work of Martin Luther King Jr. is a potent reminder of how powerful imagination becomes in a world that sometimes overwhelms. When I have a week like this past one, which had me second-guessing myself at every turn and mentally preoccupied with my perceived shortcomings, I manage to remember that I live a privileged life and operate from a position of at least some degree of power and authority. This would not have been possible had our civil rights forebears not dreamed big dreams about what might be possible some day.

So while we tend to focus on the legacy of MLK during the national holiday dedicated to his memory, we are also confronted with a clear call to action to continue imagining and dreaming and planning and doing.

For myself, this means looking beyond my own circumstances, acknowledging that I come from a long line of folks who never could have comprehended teaching at a university let alone attending one, thanking my lucky stars for the numerous sacrifices made on my behalf before I ever came into existence and rolling up my sleeves.

Yes, creativity has its place when it comes to addressing peace and justice issues, and I have a responsibility to use my own imagination toward conceiving of the kind of culture and society I want to help shape beyond the here and now.

Case in point: I work in a field that cannot, unfortunately, boast much in the way of ethnic diversity. Rather than fall into the trap of simply complaining or lamenting that fact, however, it’s incumbent upon me to do what I can to change those circumstances for the budding designers of color in my wake. And while I’m in the midst of figuring out specific ways to help pave the way for those coming up behind me, I am inspired by the people and organizations that are already fostering opportunities for young people who might not otherwise have access to the same kind of support and resources that I’ve had.

One such organization, Moving the Lives of Kids (MLK) Community Mural Project, is a testament to the power of both collaboration and creative vision. Based out of Pittsburgh, the group boasts numerous mural sites that are scattered throughout the United States as well as in Haiti and Brazil. The Broken Windows Project specifically, which was implemented in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, involved collaborative efforts between professional artists and hundreds of students from the district “using paintbrushes to fight neighborhood blight.”

A truly incredible example of the contribution art and design can make within a community, providing both educational and artistic opportunities for students, and transforming what was once a collection of vacant buildings into a beautified space, complete with imagery reflecting the history of the area. Right on.

I certainly admire MLK as a historical figure. But more than that, I honor his imaginative ability and subsequent determination to build and create something better—not just for himself but for countless others whom he would never meet or know.