01/30/2013 10:04 am ET Updated Apr 01, 2013

Long Live the King! (Remembering America's Only King)

In a country without a king, Martin Luther King Jr., was truly a monarch though his kingdom was not this world. He was a king of moral persuasion. On January 15 he would have celebrated 84 years of life. He was a prophet of peace. King was the revered son of a Baptist preacher. King was different than Billy Graham, but an awesome Christian minister in his own right. He is most remembered for his leadership in the American civil rights movement and his I Have a Dream Speech. The speech, given 50 years ago, expressed the hope of a young African American leader -- the hope that the country of his birth would forsake the twin evils of racism and arbitrary inequality and accept the salvation of peace and equal opportunity.

This year as we reflect on his life and body of work, we must remember two key facts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., First, he was a victim of gun violence. In the wake of traumatizing acts of gun violence, Dr. King's own death reminds us of the horrible reality of violence and the need for more than a change in gun policy, but a sustained movement for peace in America and beyond. He wrote in Why We Can't Wait that:

Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice. It will have enlarged the concept of brotherhood to a vision of total interrelatedness. On that day, Canon John Donne's doctrine, 'no man is an island,' will find its truest application in the Untied States. In measuring the full implications of the civil- rights revolution, the greatest contribution may be in the area of world peace.

It is the legacy of non-violence not merely as a political strategy for direct action, but rather as an ethic to guide daily living that would be the lasting influence of the civil rights movement. It was in part a movement for peace. As we begin 2013 amid massive amounts of violence in America and abroad let us remember Dr. King as a prophet of peace.

Second, he was a social engineer who had a vision for lifting people out of poverty. Remembered more for his talk of dreaming than for his public policy positions, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not killed because of his dream. He was killed because he challenged poverty, income inequality and a system of government and a social world addicted to the luxury of gradualism and procrastination. He writes, "Giving a pair of shoes to a man who has not learned how to walk is a cruel jest." Dr. King argued for the need for a Bill of Rights for the disadvantaged. He believed it would mark a new era in America in which the full resources of our society would be used to attack poverty. It would mirror the benefits given to veterans. It would mark a commitment to leveling the economic playing field in America. Today around 47 million Americans live in poverty. Some estimate that around 12.2 million Americans are unemployed. According to a U.N. study, some 88,000 Americans died in gun violence between 2003 and 2010.

Eighty-four years after his birth, Dr. King remains an imposing moral figure towering above the heads of our current leaders. He challenges the faith community. He challenges Democrats and Republicans alike. He challenges corporate titans and media moguls. He challenges elected officials and government appointees. We must fight to end poverty. We must prioritize job training and resource redistribution. We must use the power of media and money to promote peace. He challenges all of us. Hopefully, we will finally move past a celebration of his birth and dream and share the burden of his reality. We must secure a lasting peace. We must destroy persistent poverty.