by Jeff Rivers —

Martin Luther King Jr. changed the world. Had he lived, Martin, dreamer and doer, would turn 90 years old on Tuesday. Before an assassin’s bullet cut through the Memphis, Tennessee, air and claimed his life on April 4, 1968, he led the modern civil rights movement. He opposed war. He championed forgiveness. He waved the banner for redemption.

He was a child in 1938 when Joe Louis put Max Schmeling and Nazi propaganda about white supremacy down for the count. He was a teenager in 1947 when Jackie Robinson trampled on America’s color line and integrated Major League Baseball. He was a man in the last months of his life when in 1967 Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title after refusing induction into the American military.

Although he was affected in his lifetime by star athletes and their actions, Martin didn’t go in for sports much. He didn’t have time for the surface and temporal winning and the losing.

Still, every American who seeks the ultimate victory of making the world a better place while remaining true to themselves goes through doors that King and unnamed ancestors, contemporaries and followers forced open. Sojourner Truth’s fingerprints are on that door. Frederick Douglass’ fingerprints are on that door. Cesar Chavez’s fingerprints are on that door.

And so are the fingerprints of every man, woman and child who struggled to move America toward living up to the poetic promise outlined in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”

Weeks before his death, Martin said he’d like to be known as a drum major for peace and justice. He is known as a dreamer who envisioned and fought for America becoming what its founders said it was.

On Monday, we get ready to mark another anniversary in Martin’s life. We will pray and sing on Tuesday, Martin’s birthday. We will pray and sing on Jan. 21 when the nation honors Martin with a national holiday. And we will continue to march through the door Martin forced open with love, patriotism and determination: Barack Obama to Colin Kaepernick to Leshia Evans.

Let us march on. That’s where the victory is won.

(A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.)