Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Today the nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In past years, I have shared some of my own views about this great American and extraordinary peacemaker. His life and his teachings have greatly influenced my beliefs, my values and my career. I thought it was worth sharing some of these ideas again.

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, it seems like an appropriate time to not only reflect upon Dr. King’s life and contributions, but to embrace his vision and his values. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day … celebrate it through an act of service to the community!


For most of our traditional-age students, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been a part of their entire lives. Sadly, it took fifteen years from the year of King’s assassination to establish this federal holiday.

The original legislation to commemorate Dr. King was introduced by Congressman John Conyers from Michigan just four days after the assassination. When the original bill was not passed, petitions were signed by six million people endorsing the holiday. The bill finally passed and was signed into law by President Reagan in 1983.

The original proposal was to celebrate the holiday on January 15th, the date of Dr. King’s birth. Because of a concern about the proximity to Christmas and New Year’s, the date of the holiday was set for the third Monday of January. This year we will celebrate this special day on January 20th .

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings have had a significant influence on the beliefs, values and philosophy of leadership of many people. Some who hold Dr. King in high esteem are chagrined that in the over 40 years since his death, we continue to confront serious issues of racism, poverty, injustice and violence.

When I teach a course on leadership, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. is always part of the curriculum. My students always read Letter From A Birmingham Jail and often watch a video of the “I Have A Dream” speech. I am always amazed that for many students, this is the first time they have seen this speech or read any of Dr. King’s writings. He was an extraordinary speaker, but an equally powerful writer. While the videotapes of his speeches lack the technological qualities of today, his writings will still inspire any reader.

Today is a day to reflect on the life and the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the end of this blog entry, I have listed some of my favorite quotes from Dr. King’s writings and speeches that I have used repeatedly over the years. I would urge you to read some of Dr. King’s speeches and books. Take the time to read (or reread) Letter From A Birmingham Jail, and find the “I Have A Dream Speech” on the Internet and just listen. Hopefully, the quotes that follow will also help capture the core of his message.

But even more important, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a good time to reflect upon our own lives… to think about our values, our commitment to service and the Common Good, our willingness to speak out and act for justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is more than a holiday, it is a call to action. The best way to celebrate Dr. King’s life and contributions is to turn his teachings into action. I encourage you to read and reflect upon the words of Dr. King. I encourage you to work for justice and equality.

And sadly, we still face overwhelming challenges and threats to peace and equality in this country and throughout the world. How you act for justice and equality is a personal decision … but you must act. Helping at a social service agency, donating to support food and energy programs, tutoring, getting involved in political action, etc. … all are consistent with Dr. King’s vision.

But speaking out is as important and sometimes harder. When we are silent to injustice we indirectly condone this behavior and these actions. Our voices are powerful weapons of peace and justice. Keep Dr. King’s dream alive today and every day!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotations

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

A lie cannot live.”

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

“Life's most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)


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Guest Sunday, 13 July 2014