For as long as I can remember, being born on January 15th meant two things:

1. It was the day the results of the Chartered Accountancy exam results were announced in India; and

2. It was the day Martin Luther King, Jr., was born.

The first had a more immediate impact on me. I had several friends who majored in Economics along with me, and for whom becoming a CA was invariably the next step in their business career.

So my birthday plans often had to take the announcement into account (because if they failed, they wouldn’t feel like celebrating. Great…)

The second was not felt on such an immediate level, though it was something that I was always reminded of: that I shared a birthday with a very great man, who was influenced by the teachings of Gandhi, one of India’s greatest men.

When you don’t grow up in a country, you don’t always relate as deeply to its history and the societal impact that its key figures have had on that country, even if you’ve studied, read and heard about them.

Since I’ve now lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, though, I’ve experienced first-hand what exactly it was that Dr. King did for America… and for me.

Had he not been at the forefront of the civil rights movement, would I have been who I am, where I am, doing what I’m doing today?

I doubt it.

I’m a dark-skinned woman married to a white man. For the most part, this doesn’t cause anyone to bat an eyelid, though we have traveled to parts of the country where it does.

I’m a dark-skinned woman who takes for granted my right to live the way I want and do the work I’m qualified to do, without anyone questioning my ability to do so, simply because of the color of my skin.

I’m a dark-skinned woman who no longer feels any less attractive because of the color of my skin. You’d be surprised at the premium that is still put on being “fair” in India (and many other countries around the world).

Though I have many African American friends

I will never presume to know what it feels like to live in their shoes in this country. Because I’m not one, and I’ve never had to deal with the injustices they dealt with, the hate they dealt with, or the pain they lived through.

Unless you’re African American, I don’t think anyone can.

Just as you will probably never know exactly how profound Gandhi’s influence was on India, how it felt when Indira Gandhi was assassinated, or what it meant to Indians when Sushmita Sen was crowned Miss Universe.

But I can relate to the injustices Dr. King fought against, the doors he opened, the emotions his life and legacy evoke.

I can relate to the inspiration he gave to millions of people around the world, and to his faith and conviction in the absolute right to freedom from the color of one’s skin.

The civil rights movement that he was such a key part of touches each and every one of us today. Whatever the color of our skin.

I still see injustice, racism, hate, violence… we all do. Sometimes I experience it too.

But I’m absolutely certain that had Dr. King not been born 82 years ago, had he not chosen the path he did, I would not be here, doing what I do, living the life I lead, today.

Because Dr. King didn’t just open doors for black people, he opened doors for people of all races, for women… and people like me.

Thank you, Dr. King.

Image: Chris Tank via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke