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Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo credit: Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo credit:

How Martin Luther King Jr. Inspires SDSU Students

We asked SDSU students what Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and life means to them.
By SDSU News Team

Signed into law in 1983 and first observed in 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be celebrated throughout the nation on Monday, Jan. 18. The federal holiday is a deserving tribute to the life and legacy of the civil rights leader who sought to advance social justice.

The holiday holds special meaning to San Diego State University. King delivered an address at San Diego State College’s Open Air Theatre on May 29, 1964 to a near-capacity crowd, nine months after delivering his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. A plaque at the east entrance to the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre, dedicated in 2014, commemorates King’s visit.

But King’s message lives on, continuing to inspire SDSU students today. We asked several students what Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and life meant to them and how we can continue his vision to build a better world.

Rhyan Pitts
Class level: Freshman
Major: Business Management, Entrepreneurship

Martin Luther King Jr. was undoubtedly a significant contributor to the civil rights movement in America. He brought publicity to major civil rights activities and emphasized the importance of nonviolent protest. Years after his death, I still look at King's life as motivation to keep fighting for equality in my daily life. Our generation, through social media, can continue to bring awareness to the racial injustices that occur in our country. By educating others, as opposed to the use of violence, we can help others realize wrongdoings to spark systemic change.

Cristian Johnson
Class level: Sophomore
Major: Psychology with a minor in Africana Studies

Martin Luther King Jr. positively impacted the world by serving as a leader and speaker for the voiceless. King spoke out about racial injustice and inequality during a time that Black people were seen and treated as less than their white counterparts. From the extreme levels of trauma that came from slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation, Black people were persistent, but tired. Tired of centuries of oppression, tired of the cruelty and violence, tired of the obstacles that were in place that others did not have to face, tired of the systems that continued to work against them, and tired of the countless other acts of hate and racism. King was not only a leader, but a figure that brought hope and belief to many Black people that we would reach equality, even when it was not imaginable. He let us know that there would be nothing that could stop him from pursuing a better future, and that alone empowered and united us. We are far from the world that King envisioned over 50 years ago, and it is our responsibility to turn those dreams into reality. King must continue to serve as inspiration and live through us, but at the end of the day, it is our duty to carry on his legacy. 

Shawki Moore
Class level: Sophomore 
Major: Communication
Martin Luther King Jr. had a positive impact on the world because he demonstrated peace in the face of violence. He exemplified resiliency and courage through his fight against injustice no matter the cost. His courage inspires me every day because his life represents a beacon of hope for me and his courage gives me the ambition to continue the fight for justice and equality. We can continue his vision and message to build a better world by coming together. Our country is so divided it has almost become a trend to be on opposite sides. This is exactly what King fought against. If we followed King’s principles of unity, we would live in a much kinder and understanding world.

Bianca Shaw
Class level: Sophomore 
Major: Business Management with an emphasis on entrepreneurship
Martin Luther King Jr. has had a lasting impact on the world we live in today due to his leadership in educating people on the importance of uniting as one, and treating everyone equally with love. One way for us to continue King’s vision and message is to build a better world. We must do more than talk  about making a change or being a leader, we must believe and act on it. Don’t focus on what others think about what you're doing. Be a leader, not an entertainer. 

Juwayria Hussein
Class level: Sophomore
Majors: Molecular and Cellular Biology 

Growing up in a Somali household, my parents taught me to be proud of my heritage and melanin. My father told me of Martin Luther King Jr. the first time I came home crying after being called a racial slur by my white classmate in the third grade. He sat me in his lap and explained the history of that malicious word and how civil rights leaders such as King fought for my rights here in this country to be beyond that of skin color. I was taken aback by how a man could accomplish so much civil reform by peaceful protesting. I watched his entire “I Have A Dream” speech. King changed the world by breaking down the segregation barrier and the concept that Black people were inferior to whites. King’s message of not being judged by one’s skin color, but rather one’s character, has motivated me to be the best version of myself every day. King urged us to unite against injustice and not drive out hate with more hate. I am continually educating myself on the lives of Black leaders that made monumental changes in history. We can change the world for the better by shedding institutionalized racism disguised as obstacles on the path to making King's dream a reality.

Alexia Oduro
Class level: Junior
Major: Speech Language and Hearing Sciences

Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for all Black Americans to continue to earn their equal rights. He proved, with persistence, we could enact change and overcome adversity. He is an inspiration to me, and his legacy is what pushes me to always want to keep advocating for change and to succeed despite the many barriers faced by Black people. We can continue his vision and message by continuing to advocate and speak up for equality, and keep fighting to hopefully one day change the way this country functions in relation to people of color. In the current unjust state of our country, it is important to keep the message and action that King lived in mind as a beacon of hope, and to stand up for justice and equality just as he did, so that one day the entirety of his “I Have a Dream” speech will be a reality for all Black people in America.

Melvin Ridley III
Class level: Freshman
Major: Political Science

The success of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement taught us that with hard work and dedication, you can push through any hardship in life. King showed the world that when people unite and work together their dreams can be accomplished. His actions have taught me that the challenges we face in life are not to be taken sitting down, rather you must rise to the occasion and be willing to work toward your success. I believe that current movements such as Black Lives Matter and the increase of political activism that we see within the younger generation are all working to continue King’s message. We all must fight for what we believe in especially in today’s world. As we continue to fight for equality, we must remember that we will always be faced with obstacles, but together through hard work those obstacles can be overcome.

How Martin Luther King Jr. Inspires Today’s Students
SDSU students share what Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and life means to them.