What Determines a Legacy? Reflecting on MLK Day

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve been reflecting on what it means to leave behind a legacy on this day dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. Although the entirety of the American civil rights movement cannot be attributed to just one person, King is undoubtedly its most prominent figure. He amplified the voices of the African American community, speaking out against racial injustices and advocating for change on a massive scale. We remember him today, even after his death, because of the positive legacy that he left behind.

“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

(The World Was Wide Enough, Hamilton: An American Musical)

Drawing from the words and actions of Martin Luther King Jr. and the lyrics above by Lin-Manuel Miranda, I’ve realized that the only way to leave behind a positive, lasting legacy after you die is by living for others. If you live only for yourself, you aren’t making the world a better place. You must impact others in order to make a change. Otherwise, you have no legacy- your life dies with you if you only live it for yourself. When I remarked to my mom that I want to die having left the world a better place, she said, “Maybe it’s not about the whole world recognizing what you’ve done. Maybe it’s about the little things you do everyday- those are what add up to big things.”

I don’t think that living for others means you should neglect your own happiness. After all, doing small good deeds and speaking up for what matters to you is fulfilling in its own right. Actions may speak louder than words, but speaking up and making your voice heard is the first step towards change. Your words can rally others to action, too. Activism looks different for every individual- that’s the beauty of it. At the end of the day, your legacy will reflect your unique vision for the world and the steps you took to achieve that.

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