We hope you had a happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and maybe even a three-day weekend! The U.S. celebrates it as a federal holiday annually on the third Monday of January, but not every nurse or health care employee in a 24/7 workplace gets that time off.
There were many celebrations around the country to commemorate the life and achievements of this great American leader. Some events, sadly, reminded the nation that we’re still struggling to achieve Dr. King’s dream of racial harmony.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to once again listen and reflect on, Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech. His legendary civil rights-era address to the nation is ranked by scholars as one of the greatest American speeches in modern U.S. history. Most of us can easily recognize parts of it, such as this famous line:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
You can hear audio and read a transcript of the entire “Dream” speech that Dr. King delivered in 1963 at the March on Washington, here.
As a nurse, you no doubt hold tight to similar dreams of equality, justice, and compassion for the patients and communities you serve. You might also feel called to lead the charge on social justice issues that impact every level of society. Nurses are caretakers, but they’re often also change-makers at heart, educating and empowering others by sharing powerful, informative, and inspiring messages of healing and hope.
You might have sparked change by taking part in the wave of social and political activity we saw in 2018. As you already know, a record 113 million people are estimated to have voted in the November midterm elections. That’s an incredible number—the highest since 1966, when Dr. King was expanding the campaign for civil rights from the South to the northern cities, like Chicago.
Additionally, a record 117 women won political office in what has been called the “Year of the Woman” and now about one in five members of Congress are women. This 116th Congress is also the most racially diverse, with 42 women of color, including Native American and Muslim congresswomen. These are great advances, but not nearly enough in a nation where women make up over 50% of the population.
Nurses have always advocated on behalf of patients, their families, the community, and the entire nation. Sometimes that advocacy is on the front lines of politics, as we recently reported in a magazine feature, Nurse Legal Rights in the Workplace.
One such nurse, Martese Chism, RN, a Chicago-area nurse had a role model in her great-grandmother, Birdia Keglar, a civil rights activist that marched in Selma with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and lost her life because of it. Chism felt called to advocacy as a nurse, and with the support of her union, has spoken out about the closure of public hospitals and other health care facilities in minority communities.
There are so many ways to affect social justice as a nurse, even if it’s in a small, quiet, and non-political way.
What’s your dream for patients and nurses in 2019? We’d love to hear about it.