“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” – Martin Luther King Jr 1964
Martin Luther King Jnr. (MLK Jnr.) was in his lifetime and till date, from where he rests peacefully in his grave, responsible for his utterances, which have transcended time and climes. His vision was clear – mankind cannot perish as fools so we must find ways to live peacefully together. Hence, in his own uniquely selfless way, he professed that we all embrace the power of love so as to invoke world peace.
He was a global champion of love and non-violence in a world racked by war and plagued by hate. Regardless of his eventual assassination and shattering experience, his vision till the very end, was one of infective optimism that one day the world will live together in a symphony of genuine brotherhood. It is yet the early weeks of 2018 and Team LR editors in the week of MLK Jnr’s birth have taken time out to reflect on the life and time of this great man. The reason is simple; no motivational space worth its salt can deny the reservoir of inspiration this man bestowed on our world! No man or woman is perfect and MLK Jnr. would surely have had his human flaws. However, it is important to weigh in on the side of an individual that positively stimulates us to be our best – for after all; “we are all work in progress” (Nneka Okaro, 2016).
Martin Luther King Jnr. (January 15, 1962 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1954 through 1968. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of non-violence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
By the way, did you know that his birth name was Michael? It was his Pastor father who changed his name and that of his 5-year-old son at the time to Martin Luther after the teachings of the German Protestant Reformer Martin Luther changed his outlook on life. That 5-year-old would grow to unleash a powerful and poetic torrent upon the nation – a passionate plea for racial equality and economic justice for African Americans. Yet in many ways, the true power of his legacy remains untapped. Children across the country of his birth celebrate his life with a day off from school each year but many still do not understand why.
We at LR, have come to the conclusion that the reason we need to celebrate this man is because he “had a dream” so that his generation and successive generations yet to come, can “be the dream”. It was his dream that all men are born equal and his strong belief in non-violent protest that helped set the tone of the civil rights movement which was aimed at ending racial segregation and discrimination in America. His speech “I have a dream” held at the Lincoln Memorial was not his first speech at the venue but it was to become one of the most famous speeches in the history of the world. The audience present at that rally was to become one of the largest in Washington history. It brought greater attention to the civil rights movement, which had been going on for many years. To enable generations coming behind him “be the dream”, MLK Jnr. left behind a legacy of inspiring words in the many sermons and speeches he delivered during his push for civil rights. Many of the struggles he fought are still unresolved today. We still struggle with inequalities rooted in prejudice, hostilities and fear. Our world still has people being treated unfairly, inhumanly and without basic dignity. We can say there is more racial harmony today on the surface. However, how much of the hidden tap roots of racial and other stereotypes we have managed to uproot still leaves more to be desired. Even now in 2018, for many people, the colour of the skin still defines how they are perceived while others race stereotype themselves – a phenomenon which is equally as destructive. MLK Jnr., who delivered his first sermon in his father’s Church was at the age of 18, would become synonymous with the civil rights movement in the United States of America and be jailed 29 times over the course of his life all because he had the vision that we all, can “be the dream”. Most of the reasons he was jailed for were acts of civil disobedience and utterly ridiculous charges including driving 30mph in a 25mph zone – evidence of the times he lived in. Significant social, economic and political change does not happen by accident. It takes a movement and a leader of tremendous courage and faith. It is only a brave man who would have taken over the leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 which followed Rosa Parks arrest for not giving up her seat and moving to the back of the bus for a white man.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted one year and it was not until November 13th 1956 that the Supreme Court under civil pressure from MLK Jnr. and his civil rights group of legal experts declared segregation on buses unconstitutional. The civil rights movement had a determined leader in Rev. MLK Jnr. A man who shared his dreams and fought to change laws and lives in American for the better so that for years to come, those behind him can “be the dream”.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” – Martin Luther King Jr 1963
There is no doubt that his wife Corretta Scott King, who he married in 1953 helped create an enabling life-work balance for this man who literarily must have burnt himself out daily to selflessly move humanity forward. They had four children called Yolanda, MLK the 3rd., Dexter and Bernice. The sacrifice this family must have made for the responsibility their father took on can only be imagined. Their sacrifice was borne because they keyed into their father’s vision that each and every one of us in the world must understand that we are unique yet equal and that we can each “be the dream”.
At the age of 35, on the 14th of October 1964, MLK Jnr. Became the youngest man to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequalities using non-violent methods. We can only imagine the earth-shaking shock four years after his Nobel Prize when the news of his assassination on April 4th 1968, hit the world. He was shot while he was on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee.
Although he is dead, his dream lives on! He dreamt so that all humans can share in the need to pass on the message that we need to “be the dream”.
As with most great leaders, their relevance becomes better obvious to the people when they exit the land of the living. His death opened the eyes of the world to his dreams and visions of world peace and that all men are born equal. The realisation echoed beyond borders transcending continents. The physical rebound was many post-humours awards key of which were the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
MLK Jnr. Day was established in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971 and as a US Federal holiday in 1986.Hundreds of streets in the US have been renamed in his honour and a county in Washington State was also rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial on National Mall in Washington DC was dedicated in 2011. Outside of his native country, many other countries worldwide have roads, iconic buildings and many monuments erected in his honour. He is perhaps the greatest champion of freedom, justice, equality and peace ever known. His legacies live on. It lives on, insulated in that indestructible place where it can only continue the ripple effects of his lifetime work. That place is in the hearts of men and women where we each know, that we have no choice but to “be the dream”.
Team LR enjoins us all, to reminisce on his vision that World Peace is the concept of an ideal state of happiness, freedom and peace within and among all people and nations, devoid of stereotypes. However, the fact that stares us in the face daily is one where countries tend to race towards supremacy and dominance thereby placing the vision of world peace further and further away. The holiday on the 15th of January annually in the United States celebrating his entrance into the world must serve to remind us of how far we have come and challenge us to push ourselves to keep fighting for what is right and just. We must let his life story motivate us on a determined quest for peace in a troubled world. He had a dream so that we can each “be the dream”.
You are welcome to tell us in the comments section, what you think of MLK Jnr. – a great man who once walked this earth maintaining his very erect posture. This was a concept, which he buttressed both physically and philosophically with the quote: “Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere because no one can ride your back unless it is bent”. Remember the duty we owe his legacy and our world is to each in our own unique way, “live and be the dream”.
**Many thanks to our all our editors who this week led by Eryho Obodo, have brought this inspirational piece to your device screens and keyboards**