Dreams and democracy: A call for civic engagement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Policy and advocacy work has been essential in advancing Health Forward’s mission since we were founded. We have long recognized shaping policies and systems as the best way to achieve health equity and secure a fair and just region.

We know that our policy and advocacy work is at its best when it’s amplifying the power that already exists within our communities of focus. That’s why we were proud to advance civic engagement and support regional advocacy coalitions focused on shaping public policy, community mobilizing, and voter engagement through $4.9 million in grants to 33 nonprofit organizations last year. And it’s why part of our Power purpose area is dedicated to advancing participation in democracy.

As our 2024 advocacy work begins in earnest, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday signals the beginning of a strikingly consequential election year.

Beyond his powerful speeches and nonviolent protests, Dr. King was a staunch advocate for civic engagement and voting rights, recognizing the pivotal role these played in achieving equality, justice, and lasting change. He believed that civic engagement was a cornerstone of a thriving democracy. He encouraged people to actively participate in shaping their communities and influencing policy change. He knew that civic engagement goes beyond powerful peaceful protests; it involves education, dialogue, allyship, and collaboration to build a society that embraces diversity and equity.

Recognizing the power of the ballot box, Dr. King and other civil rights leaders focused on dismantling voting barriers for Black Americans. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark achievement of the movement, aimed to eliminate discriminatory practices that prevented people from exercising their right to vote.

As we reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s enduring impact, let’s remember the inseparable link between the civil rights movement, civic engagement, voting rights and our health. What this election year has in store remains uncertain.  This year, legislation has already been introduced in Kansas and Missouri — and all around the country — that will limit access to polling places, ballots, holding political office, voting, and the initiative petition process. But we are not passive observers. We do not have to resign ourselves to a fate that is out of our control. We have the power to shape our future. Inclusive, powerful, and healthy communities characterized by racial equity and economically just systems can be our shared reality when we exercise our power, engage, and work together to reshape policies and rebuild systems.

May Dr. King’s vision of a just and equitable society continue to inspire us to actively participate in shaping the future, underscoring the enduring power of collective action and the ballot box in the pursuit of justice.