Often around a dinner table, someone will ask a question that begins something like, “If you could meet and spend time with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would that person be?” I have found myself on many occasions answering, without hesitation, “Martin Luther King, Jr.”
I am quite taken with him…
- His approach to conflict and hate.
- His approach to leadership and mentorship.
- His approach to challenge and commitment.
He didn’t start out to change the world; he just knew that racism was wrong. He didn’t set out to upset society so much that it would get him killed; he just knew he could not stand by and do nothing. But he did so through the paradox of opposites. When he confronted hate, he met it with love. When he confronted chaos, he met it with peace. When he confronted ignorance, he met it with kindness.
The question I would want to ask him is simply “Why? Why risk your family? Your children?” I have a feeling he would say something like “Why wouldn’t I? There is right and there is wrong and you cannot pretend there is an in-between. Racism is wrong, PERIOD, and cannot be tolerated.”
My husband Don and I were invited to the 2015 MLK Remembrance Celebration in Atlanta, GA. The event was filled with moving speeches, powerful song, inspiring messages. It was an honor to simply be there, but I was also asked by Dr. Bernice King, MLK’s daughter, to sing How Great Thou Art before the keynote speaker. Don and I were deeply moved… and troubled. Moved, because there was great love and compassion being extended to each person in that place. Troubled, because there is still much work to be done in the arena of racial reconciliation.
This becomes deeply personal for Don and I, as our youngest son, Sam, is multi racial. Sam is 19 years old and a freshman in college. Sam is loyal, opinionated, confident, funny, talented, musical, athletic, smart… and he also happens to be multi racial. It is confounding to me that still, today, in 2015, this continues to be an issue for some people and some areas of our country.
But MLK has set the bar high in how one addresses prejudice of any kind. You simply love and become a person of peace. You seek to serve rather than to be served. This is a hard way to oppose racism and prejudice, but it is the wisest and the most effective.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a 30 something who just could not pretend that wrong was right. He had to say something. He had to land on a side of that right and wrong of prejudice, and it eventually got him killed.
Another 30-something radical some 2000 years ago did the same thing –– He met hate with love. He met opposition with peace. He sought out those in society that were targets of great prejudice and reminded them they were persons of great value. And for this, Jesus was killed.
Thankfully Jesus’ story didn't end with his death on the cross. Jesus continues to offer new life to those who seek to be his follower, and to follow His teachings.
Although MLK didn't remain on this earth with us, his story continues to inspire and encourage. His legacy has lived on. His challenge to ‘take a side’ when the glaring truth of right and wrong cannot be ignored, inspires me to this very day. People, human beings, have dignity and should be treated as such. Peace and Love are ALWAYS the answer, even if it may not seem so in the moment.
So, here is what I am learning from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1. The first place to start is to be a Jesus follower. Dr. King was a devout Christian man and pastor.
2. Often convictions come with a price. Am I willing to pay that price?
3. Right and wrong cannot be ignored.
4. Human dignity, or the lack thereof, cannot be ignored.
5. Convictions require action.
6. When an “off color” joke or racial slur is spoken, I must not stay silent.
7. Peace and Love are ALWAYS the answer. Offering peace and extending love is not always easy, but it is always right.
8. Taking the high road, in the end, is wise and it is eternal.
9. May we see people for the men and women God has created and not judge because they or we are different.
My friend, Nicole C Mullen says, “It’s okay to notice the color. God made the color. But don’t stop there. Color only describes us. It does not define us.”
In the words of MLK, “We SHALL overcome… someday!”
I, too, have a dream… that my son will not be judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. What am I willing to risk to see that dream come true?