13-year-old Mary-Pat Hector

The nation is brimming with anticipation of the historic unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. With just one month away until the official ceremony on Aug. 28, 2011 — also the 48th anniversary of the venerated “I Have a Dream” speech — millions already have begun the emotional pilgrimage to the site where a young man and his spiritual comrades changed America forever.

Despite MLK’s dizzying exploits as a young man, oftentimes, we neglect to nurture and cultivate the exuberance and energies of young people and procure their perspective of a monumental occasion such as this. It was the youth, after all, who gave the legendary Civil Rights Movement and the subsequent Black Power Movement their life and breath. Dr. King was just a 26-year-old Southern Baptist preacher himself when he unwittingly climbed into international prominence. So, it’s only fitting that rolling out ensures that the voices of young people are heard about King, such as from 13-year-old Mary-Pat Hector, the founder and president of the nationally prominent Youth in Action community organization.

This is what Mary-Pat has to say:

As I get ready for the unveiling of the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Aug. 28, my heart is full of anticipation that a small piece of Dr. King’s dream is realized. To see a man who lived his life to serve and have his image portrayed so the world never forgets the history of the ’60s. See, too many times we forget our history and need to be reminded. This monument will do just that. I hope this monument starts a new momentum for our nation and the generation to come.

If you ask most teenagers what Dr. King’s monument means to them, they would say, “Nothing.” It seems like some of my generation are just pods. We go through our days not thinking about world news or how the homeless man down the street will eat or how to stop a race of people from dying of HIV/AIDS, while our planet dies from pollution. Some of my peers don’t seem to care about health care and the poor education many of today’s youth receive.

Mary-Pat, 2nd from left, was honored recently in New York by Rev. Al Sharpton, left.

Now, do not “Amen” me so much. That is what the media would have you believe. How often do you see youth doing positive things? I am here to tell you that there is a growing movement stretching from North Carolina to California, from street corners to libraries. We are a new wave of young people here to pick up the baton and finish the race for which Dr. King gave his life.

Last year, I had the pleasure of being a part of the 47th annual celebration of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial. As I introduced U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, I felt a sense of responsibility to myself, my community and the world. I looked at thousands of people there to celebrate an idea and a man that still commands so much love and respect, even in his death. I was so inspired that I didn’t want to just talk about my trip, but to live my life in service like Dr. King did.

I am not alone in this call to action. Youth from all over the nation, from different religions, colors and backgrounds, are doing the same. We get it! We know there are hundreds of young people who are still going to watch “The Bad Girls Club” or “16 and Pregnant.” However, there are others who will take the journey to the King Memorial this year who will catch the momentum and join the movement to work toward world peace and the American Dream. We know it will be the youth who will stand and see that Dr. King’s dream can be truly realized. So, I hope you will take your children and grandchildren to see the man who dared to dream.

Terry Shropshire

I'm a lover of words, pictures, people and The Ohio State Buckeyes. A true journalist from the soul.