Let’s honor MLK Jr.’s legacy by standing up for justice

By John Di Leonardo

On January 17th, fans of beloved actress Betty White—an avid promoter of the adage “adopt, don’t shop,” and a big supporter of animal rescues—celebrated what would’ve been her 100th birthday by donating to animal shelters around the world. However, one need not be a fan of “Golden Girls” or even spend a dime to help animals in their own backyard. 

January 17th was also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. MLK, Jr. would have been 92 years old two days earlier had he not been assassinated following his world changing “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. While Dr. King is renowned for his immense contributions to civil rights, his wife Coretta Scott King believed that animal rights were “the next logical extension of Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence” and many of his teachings can be applied universally to fight all types of prejudice, including speciesism—the assumption of human superiority that leads to the exploitation of animals. 

Dexter Scott King, a civil rights activist like his father and the chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, GA became vegan—eschewing meat, dairy, and any product that exploits animals—after meeting fellow civil rights activist Dick Gregory and following his example. King said of his decision, “If you’re violent to yourself by putting things into your body that violate its spirit, it will be difficult not to perpetuate that onto someone else.” This echoes his father’s statement that “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.” Staying true to her beliefs, Coretta followed her son’s footsteps to veganism in 1995. 

Dr. King himself famously said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” This is very similar to a statement by Jain monk Acharya Tulsi (1914 to 1997), the founder of the Anuvrat Movement: “To invite risks is one thing; to avoid doing something for fear of risks is another.  Can one ever conceive life without risks? In fact, the bigger the task, the greater the risk. So why shirk action merely because it entails risks?” Simply stated: never be silent in the face of oppression. Anything worth doing requires risk and sacrifice. Thankfully, most of us won’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice like Dr. King. We do not risk our lives to eat plants rather than meat or dairy. We do not risk our lives to speak up about a neighbor who is neglecting their child, their dog, or their duck.  

Please, join me in celebrating the late, great Dr. King by vowing (taking Anuvrat) to speak up when it is uncomfortable and to do what is right even when it calls for sacrifice. This simple Anuvrat is perhaps the greatest one can do. 

Five illegal birds were rescued by John from a ‘fowl’ situation near Queens high school last week.

John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION). He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected]. 

People Also Ask … …. 

What is JAINA? 

JAINA stands for Jain Associations In North America. It is an umbrella organization that was conceptualized in 1981 in California and formalized in 1983 at the Jain Center of America (JCA) in Elmhurst, New York by almost all existing Jain Centers at the time. Since then, every odd year JAINA hosts a convention during July 4th weekend. The last one in 2021 was to be in Florida but was held virtually due to COVID-19. JAINA is a federation of Jain Centers in USA and Canada. At present there are 70 member centers representing 150,000 Jains under JAINA.

Acharya Tulsi Ji 

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