Martin Luther King, Jr on Nov 8, 1964. Image Credit: History.com
One of our principles at the Smeal College of Business is to value and foster diversity. And sustainability is as much about valuing people as it is about valuing nature. MLK Day is particularly special for me because of an experience in high school when I met Dr. King for the first time....
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I usually sat in the back of the classroom. Today, I was upfront. Nothing between me and him on the screen. The way he spoke! I was mesmerized. Where did these tears come from?
For some reason, on this day back in high school, I sat in the front row. It was the first time I recall seeing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. Here I was, a white kid in Eugene, Oregon who had grown up in rural Montana. I don't think I had ever really known a person of color. There was a boy I remember meeting briefly while on the train from Montana to New York years ago. But that was a faint memory.
I had grown up seeing the struggle of poor working white families. Many were relatives and others were family friends. That is who I grew up with.
And I had some exposure to Native Americans in Montana who we played in basketball or competed against in track. I heard the comments, the jokes. Somehow I learned Native Americans were second-class citizens. I was a kid, so the racist nature of it all was normal, completely undetected by whatever moral sense I might have had.
So I was unprepared, you might say, for an encounter with a civil rights leader. But I was also in need of such an intervention; to save me from limited view of the world.
When I Met Dr. King
My family moved to Oregon while I was in high school. At North Eugene High School, I was on the basketball team, sang in the choir and was unspectacular at both. And I was an equally unimpressive student. Maybe I sat in front that day to improve my grades. So there I was, a big tall jock sitting in the front row of social studies.
King started preaching and I started crying. Small tears whose origin I cannot describe. Not sobbing of course. Not sadness or even joy. I was just moved. I had never heard someone speak with such power, conviction, emotion, and intellect. It was quite a first meeting. Something shifted inside me on that day.
I have a scar on my left elbow from putting my arm through a door window while running out to recess in 3rd grade. And after that, I had a scar on my conscience from hearing Dr. King preach right to me from the big screen in junior year Social Studies class. Years later I would have unusual jobs working with marginalized peoples in rural Alaska, Paraguay, and inner city Seattle. That work can all be traced back to that classroom, that chair I sat in and the man whose dream I heard about for the first time.
As an adult, I watch his "I Have a Dream Speech" every year. As a father, I made my kids watch it (when they were young....now they are teens and I can't make them do anything. So I text them the link!)
What is Your Life Blueprint? A Rare Speech to a Junior High in Philadelphia
This year, I found a terrific speech I had not heard before. Martin Luther King, Jr., is speaking to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967. His speech is called "What Is Your Life's Blueprint?" I encourage you to take 20 minutes, free from distraction and enjoy it today.
In the talk, he challenges the audience with the question: "What is your life blueprint?" A building is built with a blueprint, he says. "Each of you is building the structure of your life...what is your blueprint?"
And he commends them to consider adding three parts to their blueprint:
A deep belief in your dignity and worth, your "somebodiness". Have the firm conviction that life has ultimate significance and that you are here for a purpose.
Determination to achieve excellence. Find what you are to do and do it as if God Himself told you to do it. (King expounds on this with a great example of a "street sweeper" who makes the angels sing)
A commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice. "However young you are," he implores them, "you have the responsibility to make your nation a better nation and to make life better for everyone." (Reminded me of Dalio's PRINCIPLES from last week)
Don't let anybody cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice.
Happy MLK Day to you and yours. How do you celebrate the day? Any favorite MLK quotes, videos, experiences?