“The time is always right to do what’s right” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was October 22, 1964. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fresh off winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He accepted an invitation to speak at Oberlin College. In his speech, The Future of Integration, he uttered the quotation above to 2500 students, faculty and visitors in the historic Finney Chapel.
Election Day 1964 was just around the corner. Dr. King went on to say, “It is true that behavior cannot be legislated, and legislation cannot make you love me, but legislation can restrain you from lynching me, and I think that is kind of important.”
Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from high school at 15, and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College at 19. He studied theology at Crozer Theological Seminary before obtaining his doctorate from Boston University at the age of 26.
On Monday, January 21, we will celebrate Martin Luther King Day. He would have been 90 years old this year, and that had me wondering. What three lessons can we focus on from Dr. King’s life and years of service?
The first lesson is perseverance. You know the saying. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Dr. King certainly got going. He was arrested twenty times. His house was bombed. He was assaulted four times. I don’t think he would have won the Nobel Peace Prize if he had decided to pack it in after his first arrest. We would not be celebrating his life and legacy if he had chosen to settle for the “quiet life” after his house was bombed.
During one of his arrests, he wrote the famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail, on April 16, 1963. In it he wrote, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.” Multiple arrests, a life fraught by violence and mistreatment did not deter Dr. King from pursuing his mission, to stand against injustice.
Now, I’m confident neither you nor I are facing the kind of opposition Dr. King faced. So, we have no excuse. When it’s time to stand up for what we believe, let’s stand.
The second lesson is communication. Dr. King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Through the next 11 years, he traveled over six million miles and delivered 2,500 speeches. He wrote five books, and numerous articles. I still feel goose bumps when I hear clips from his I Have A Dream speech.
He closed that speech saying, “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 world is very different today than it was when he spoke those words. Communication is different. Today, we don’t need to travel six million miles to reach thousands of people. We have websites and email, Facebook and Twitter. We have podcasts and Youtube. What we can learn from Dr. King is that he understood the importance of communicating in every way. He was more than a good speaker. He was more than a good preacher. He was a good writer too. If you learn who your audience is and discover the best way to communicate with them, you will find success.
The last lesson is faith. Dr. King had faith in his mission. He believed that segregation was not only bad policy. It was plain wrong.
His mission was extended beyond segregation to standing firmly against injustice itself. He wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
Not only did he believe in his mission. He believed in God. He finished the last speech he ever gave by saying,
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Faith is the cornerstone of perseverance. It is essential in communication. Believing in our mission helps us keep moving forward. Believing in our mission helps us persuade others too.
Our new Governor has taken office. He is wielding his pen to sign new executive orders and laws. Next week, I will express my thoughts on his decisions so far. I look forward to sharing them with you.
If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Glenda at 815-284-0045 or visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.