With each new year comes another chance to celebrate the civil rights icon, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King is known for his leadership during the civil rights movement that moved this nation beyond the quagmire of segregation, whose progress would have been otherwise stymied by the unabated undercurrent of unapologetic racism.
50+ years Later, What Have We Really Overcome?
The most humanizing elements of the civil rights movement proved that blacks deserved equality because quite simply, they were people equal to their white counterparts. This was a point of contention for whites and even some black people who could not see humanity under their brown skin. Dr. King was a young scholar who entered college at the age of 15 and earned his doctorate degree at the age of 26, but not even that made a difference to white people who couldn’t hear the drum major’s appeal over the deafening drumbeats of dissention.
We remember Dr. King not only for what he accomplished individually, but as a force that spurred this nation to consider how to become its best self. Blacks in America experienced new levels of freedom and the many manifestations of racism were finally being called into account. He was a man of inspiration and a man of determination, this he passed on to the generations born before him (comprised of former slaves and their direct descendants) and even to generations after him, the world over.
During a 1967 speech at a junior high school in Philadelphia, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr asked the young people in attendance “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” admonishing them, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Before researching it, I erroneously attributed the quote to the Memphis sanitation worker strike. The quote fit perfectly because during the strike the workers held up signs saying: “I Am A Man” and decried debasing wages and deplorable work conditions.
It has been said that at that time, one of the easiest ways to insult a child was to refer to his father as a sanitation worker. The job of a sanitation worker in Memphis was one that robbed black men of their inherent dignity and though fitting, was not part of Dr. King’s encouragement to the men whose cause he took up in his last days. However, this quote was issued to junior high schoolers who had yet to face the cruel reality of the world as adults at that time. Still, the quote holds true today and as we pause to honor Dr. King this year, here is a truth to consider.
Whatever you are called to do with your life, do it with all the grace and strength you have. This speech forever altered the trajectory of the lives of those children at the Barratt Junior High School. But what about us today, what is your life’s blueprint? That’s what Dr. King asked those young Philadelphians a mere six months before his life ended in Memphis, Tennessee.
Dr. King told the young people to “set out to do well” the jobs they would assume later in life. Can the same be said of us? Are we pursuing greatness with all our might? So many are aware of their life’s blueprint (purpose) but sell it short by not doing all they can to achieve it. This year, honor the legacy of Dr. King by making the decision to pursue your life’s work with all your might.
Dr. King was beaten, spat upon and challenged by even those he gave his life trying to help, still he pressed on. This level of determination is what he is remembered for. To quote one of the songs of the movement, don’t you let anyone turn you around, keep on walking, keep on talking, keep on pursuing until your life’s purpose is well within your grasp!
“Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” -Mahalia Jackson
It’s a good thing Dr. King had already been to the mountaintop, there are moments in the United States even today that make his dream seem more of an implausible hallucination. With every instance of police brutality and murder, voter suppression, low wages in impoverished neighborhoods, the uncovering of the depth of red lining that still affects black homeowners, privatized prisons and imbalanced criminal sentences, the uphill climb grows steeper.
In 2020, we are still climbing and striving in many areas to overcome what Dr. King along with other generals in the civil rights movement sought to lead this nation through and away from. Though “the marathon continues”, perhaps the key to finally overcoming is discovered in the collective lift contributed by each of us living our lives according to its blueprint.
About Fred Willis, The Dreamer…
Preaching for Fred Willis doesn’t always emanate from behind a podium, he also speaks from his platform as a journalist and broadcaster. He got busy building the SoulProsper Music & Media Group in 2012 and has since created a digital media enterprise consisting of an internet radio station, independent music label, and news outlet. In 2019, he released “The Journey to Genesis: A Discovery of Your Created Purpose” to share his journey of discovering his life’s purpose. In addition to reporting for his company, Fred has written for numerous digital and print outlets sharing his gift of thought-provoking writings.