By Kurt Wilkin
Martin Luther King, Jr. inspires me. He inspires me because he stood up for what he believed in – against all odds. He inspires me with his humility and with his insistence on a nonviolent approach to activism. He inspires me by his ability to lead and to inspire multiple generations of Americans – both during his lifetime and after his assassination. And he inspires me both for his vision AND for his ability to articulate and vividly illustrate that vision to millions of Americans.
On Monday January 16th we honor him with a national holiday. Few are more deserving of such an honor than Dr. King. He was a staunch believer in the Civil Rights Movement. He stood up for his beliefs – often at great risk to his life and to his reputation. By his bold actions, and by using his God-given preaching talents to lead and to inspire, he motivated hundreds of thousands of others to take action. He showed them new ways – nonviolent ways – to stand up for the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. He helped to change the course of history. Many would argue that he was assassinated for his beliefs and for leading the movement he inspired.
Dr. King painted a vivid picture one summer day in 1968 when he memorably delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. In this speech, he painted a picture of an ideal America that was a far cry from the reality that existed on that day – an America that was deeply divided and racially segregated. In the speech, he powerfully anchored his vision to several well-known documents from our nation’s life and history.
“I have a dream…a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” And that dream sprang from the promise of the Declaration of Independence “…we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
He continued describing his vision of the future with language that could only be imagined as fantasy that day in 1968, but has which come closer and closer to becoming real as we near the speech’s 50th anniversary:
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
Wow – what a picture! He went on to tie his vision to a bedrock of American patriotism, and to national physical landmarks by quoting the iconic anthem, My Country, Tis of Thee:
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And finally, Dr. King brought everyone together and urged a united front against tyranny and oppression:
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
The picture Dr. King painted was poignant and prophetic. His speech was predominantly about the Civil Rights Movement and about equal treatment of blacks. But on that day in our nation’s Capital, almost 25% of the crowd, or 60,000 people in attendance, were white. Dr. King transcended color. His memory continues to inspire us - black and white -almost 50 years after his death. He continues to inspire this white businessman – a man who grew up in South Louisiana, went to college at the University of Arkansas and now calls Austin, Texas home – this white businessman, who has a little bit of redneck, Cajun and hillbilly all rolled up into one!
Thank you Dr. King. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in. Thank you for preaching and living nonviolence. Thank you for inspiring generations of human beings to stand for equality
So, let me make this personal between us. Let me ask: What is your vision for the future? What is your purpose? Is there anything that you would risk dying for? That might sound a bit dramatic. but what do you believe in? What is your vision for the world? For your community? For your business? What is your vision for your family or for yourself? You and I don’t have to be world leaders or elected to office to make a positive impact on our little slice of the world. And it doesn’t take a Herculean effort or an act of Congress to make an impact. Simply shift your mind and do what you think is right. Who knows what ripples may be set in motion by the pebbles of inspiration that you cast.
Those are my thoughts on this anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. What are yours?