Martin Luther King, Jr. has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember. Probably from the first time I heard his story, contribution to history and the content of some of his great speeches he became one of those larger-than-life characters to me in the story of history and a personal inspiration. Today, in honor of his life and death, I count down my top 3 reasons I admire this man and the contribution he made.
Reason #3 That I'm a King Fan: Talent
He is, arguably, one of the greatest orators of all time. As a musician, anytime I write or speak I want there to be something of Music to the language and the rhythm. MLK Jr. was the all-time master of this in my opinion. I can listen to his "I Have a Dream" or "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speeches as background music even while I'm doing other things. They play like music. They sing like poetry. If I can attain even a glimmer of that in my own speaking and writing, I will have reached one of my top goals in life.
Reason #2 That I'm a King Fan: Cause
What he stood for. I spent my summers growing up in a rural nearly all-black area south of Chicago. My friends there were more loving and accepting of me than the ones of my own race where I spent the rest of the year. They were also a ton of fun and a rich addition to my life. I learned early on to see people as people and not as colors.
One day when I was maybe 10 or so we took a trip as a group to a community swimming pool in the neighboring city. I will never forget the sight of a group of maybe 25 or more white people exiting the pool en masse as soon as we entered.
I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and could not imagine anything more mindless or cruel. I was much older before I could sort through some of the strangeness of the situation. This was still happening in the late 70's instead of the 50's or 60's?? And in the North, not the South?? All I knew at the moment as a 10-yr. old was that here was a group of people who did not know anything about me or my friends yet had already made up their minds about us and our worthiness to be around by something as ridiculously superficial as skin color. My child's mind and my own experience of feeling loved and accepted by this community could not comprehend the mindlessness of it.
And not over yet.
In more recent years, it has been the pain of the look in my 10 yr. old niece Megan's eyes when--now decades later--this same area of the country makes assumptions based on the color of her skin. On a school field trip to the State Capitol with her I noticed much whispering and staring at the two of us throughout the day. Finally, one of her classmates asked her in a tone dripping with contempt if she were adopted. Megan matched tone for tone when she replied, "Of course not!" But pain flashed across her face at being singled out as different.
Mostly we try to smile sweetly in the face of those stereotypes and assumptions and just have fun showing up places past the stares with our heads held high as a blue-eyed pale-skinned blond walking beside a miniature African-looking princess who share the same genetic material. We will both be world-changers one day, and that matters far more than how we look to anyone.
It serves, though, as an ongoing reminder that we still have a long way to go in this country before the King's dream of people not making snap judgments based on externals becomes reality. I admire him for pointing out that the Emperor actually has on no clothes in such an articulate and public way. May his tribe increase.
And Reason #1 That I'm a King Fan: Courage
He was as imperfect as any of us and probably has numerous mistakes he'd like to undo from his journey if he could. But a story I once heard about him has stuck with me and now gives me courage for my own dreamcasting.
My primary "I Have a Dream" area that I care passionately about educating the public on is the horrors of incest and making a safer world for children everywhere. There is little glamorous or popular about becoming the poster child for pedophilia. It isn't a topic anyone I know enjoys hearing discussed. That seems especially true when the discussion leans away from just the random rapist on the street to the staggering statistic of child after child being unsafe behind closed doors in his or her own home at the hands of highly respected teachers or local politicians or church board members--as I was.
But if I turn away from the ugliness of the call--like the King could have from all going public over his great Dream involved--then where will that Dream and what I can uniquely say about it go? What progress will or can be made?
- It is the Dream that makes the rejection and pain worthwhile.
- It is the Dream that keeps hope alive.
- It is the Dream that keeps us moving forward--even if we cannot see it fulfilled in our own lifetimes.
- Thank you for living out your calling, Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Thank you for the difference it has made and will continue to make.
- May we all go and do likewise.