I am black and beautiful….”Song of Solomon, 1:5, NRSV.
On the eve of celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, you will see various articles about his dreams and his leadership. First let’s reflect on his dream.
Who could forget the August, 1963 “I have a Dream” speech given by King at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC? Or the many marches that he and others led to capture such a dream. Can you hear freedom ring? Let’s listen.
“….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!”
A recent poll (January 5-10, 2011) conducted by the Associated Press and GFK (AP-GFK) Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications revealed that 77% of Americans feel that as a country we have gone far in realizing King’s dream.
Yes, dreams are needed, but actions are more important. This reminds me of the Japanese proverb that reads: “vision without action is simply a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” That’s what I want to highlight today. King was a leader, but not just any leader. He was a servant leader, a transforming leader. He was the kind of leader that we thirst for today; a leader to transform our minds and hearts; a leader to transform our country and to transform our world. King foresaw his legacy and delivered a message from the heart that was heard by many at his funeral. Here’s a portion of it.
“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long…. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize-that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards-that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
“I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like somebody to say that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness….
King is one of my heroes. It was his vision and his leadership that made it possible for me to realize that my potential, my dreams could be a reality. A far cried from the reality that my parents and grandparents realized.
Now I want to leave you with a post that I penned on January 16, 2009, the weekend prior to the inauguration of Barack Obama, our first Black president of these United States.
I am black and beautiful. Not hard to say or believe now, but there was a time when I and many African-Americans wishfully wondered about such a statement: “I am black and beautiful. Yet today we have reason to celebrate; a reason to be proud of our skin color. For if it was not for Martin Luther King and the many civil rights leaders and brave souls of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, January 20, 2009 would not be a reality today.
On Monday, January 19, 2009, the nation will celebrate and honor the work of Martin Luther King—the “Drum Major for Justice.” – “The Dreamer” – whose dream is becoming reality within the same generation, as the world witnesses Barack Obama take oath to be President of these United States. We go from “I have a Dream” to “Yes We Can.”
From Martin Luther King to Barack Obama and to all the community organizers, civil rights leaders and the faithful in between, we salute you. We praise you. We honor you and yes, we thank you. We thank you for your sacrifices; the sacrifices that have given this country an opportunity to live up to its creed; to show the world that America is truly a nation that believes all men and women are created equal.