I also believe a comment I received to an article I’d written in a newsletter. ‘There will never be universal peace so long as one person is without peace.’
And still, no quote of Dr. King’s resonates deeper than, “I have a dream that my four little 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.”
Rather than seeing Dr. King’s living legacy as one of saving the world through peace talks, his sacrifices for humanity represents seeing each other individually so that we can live together collectively. This is not easy work... that’s for sure, but I can share one quick short story that provides insight on a small matter that makes a big difference.
In speech and toastmaster classes I’ve taken, students are taught and graded on dress, body language, and surface appearances, to include counting ‘umms…aahs…’ and flawed pauses in diction, in addition to the actual speech. Ninety percent of the grade weighs on the former, as opposed to the latter.
This method of teaching behooved me… YES, BEHOOVED ME. Speaking isn’t a modeling competition. Needless to add, not only did I struggle in speech classes, but to this day cannot recall one speech out of the many student speeches I’ve heard…except but for one.
If I live to be a million and one I’ll never forget the speech I gave trying to pass those classes. It was an argument speech. The idea was to drive my audience to a consensus, agreeing with my argument by the end of the speech. I won’t reinvent the topic here, to spare myself of another argument, but will conclude by sharing how everyone disagreed with the argument, vehemently at the start. By the end there wasn’t a ding mark noted about my diction, dress or posture. All the energy got directed to my argument, bowling balls coming down the lane towards it from all angles. But if there were twelve pins standing in the beginning, all twelve pins remained standing in the end. No, I didn’t get a complete consensus, but no one scored a strike. I ACED that speech.
The point is, content matters. Educators and toastmasters would be well advised to consider this point in their lesson plans. Many individuals have been deceived, some with stories only their next of kin can share, solely for learning to judge and adulate outward appearances and edifices, over content.
At the heart of celebrating the occasion however, I’m recalling another notable work of Dr. King’s that even more deeply resonates.
It bothered me as a child watching those sit-ins and boycotts on TV, some led by Dr. King. I was only six or seven but remember thinking, ‘I would never sit at a counter begging to be served by people spitting on me. And no one would ever have to tell me to boycott the busses I saw Colored people on TV riding. You wouldn’t see my face in town ever. I’d grow my own food… and make my own clothes…shoes included.
Incidentally, (book plug here) this was a welcoming treat on the eyes read in Condoleezza Rice’s memoir, ‘Extraordinary, Ordinary People.’ Condi sharing how her family didn’t try to prove they were equal, or just as smart, or seek the ‘buy-in’ of oppressors exuded my feelings exactly. Imagine trying to not only get an oppressor to like you, but trying to measure up to, or be as good as an oppressor.
But hang on! Dr. King’s work was NOT done in vain. One quality of looking beneath surfaces, as opposed to looking at surfaces, is we get to see the big picture. That is, we get to see beyond the unobvious scope of ‘acceptable’ rights and wrongs. We get to see the long-term societal affects of our individual wants, wishes, choices and decisions. We get to see, such as I later saw, how the sit-ins and demonstrations led a whole human race (man, woman, and child…irrespective of gender, skin tone, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability and the likes) the opportunity to participate in a country that had become their home; the only home they’d known—America.
Now, I’ve heard some say, addressed in a number of books I’ve read, such as Harry Reasoner’s Before the Colors Fade, understanding sentiments echoed by some of my own people, 'that they liked things better when they were separate.' “Everyone got along fine that way,” I've heard. Note: This was a mood felt during the height of the civil rights struggle.
Except, in the big picture this kind of separate but equal harmony presents grave challenges, assuredly what many like Dr. King saw. Two and three separate governments (otherwise regimes) operating over a relatively small territory was the reason slavery was abolished in America, leading to what makes Dr. King’s work still relevant today. Had one class of people remained, by whatever means, shut out of American society, America would have never realized the wealth and growth it has experienced.
The unbendable truth is every society in the world, be it white, black, brown or yellow, depends on a pecking order; that being a working class, on up to those who sit on thrones governing it all. When one class is removed, it’s replaced by another, and at the expense of much grief and discord. This is the rule of relativity… the third law of motion in motion; a precise reasoning we can use as a logical guide to help us see beyond what appears on the surface, so that we can live in relative harmony for the time we have left on Earth.
In Observation of Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday, how did you celebrate remembering his legacy?