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Martin Luther King Jr. and his courage to step up

Martin Luther King Jr. with his daughter

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

One entire wall in my office is covered with pictures of family and friends. On another wall are photographs of individuals I’ve interviewed, who make a difference, and who I respect. And there is a wall of historically important individuals: These are the ladies and gentlemen whose words, action and lives changed the world.

One of the photographs is of Martin Luther King Jr. He’s not preaching from a pulpit, leading a march or speaking in at the National Mall. He’s at home. King looks totally at peace and totally in love while visiting with his daughter. There’s something beautiful about seeing a larger than life, iconic figure savoring the ordinary, rarely seen, possibly best moments of life.

I had an opportunity to visit with his daughter Bernice King at an event where we were both speaking in Memphis several years ago. It was inspiring to simply be present with a woman whose father’s nonviolent actions changed the world. It was stirring to listen to someone possessing the same passion for equality as her father and the same capability of articulating it.

Bernice shared that her father didn’t set out to be the voice of a movement. He came to realize, though, that the challenges and issues endured by others were challenges and issues that must be faced by us all.

As a young pastor and father, he imagined possibly going into law or medicine. He considered possibly moving to the less racially divided north where he could raise his children and work as a professor.

But then Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. And then a small group of people decided she was right in refusing. And then those numbers began to swell and needed a clear, singular and powerful voice.

Selflessly saying “yes”

On December 5, 1955, King was nominated to be the voice of that small, local movement focused on the right of a person of color to be able to sit where they please on a city bus.

Bernice’s dad, Martin Luther King Jr., knew the risk of leading this protest. He understood that in saying yes there would be hardship and retribution. Saying yes that evening meant leaving the safety and comfort of home. Saying yes meant being inconvenienced. Saying yes meant taking a stand and marching for what was right. Saying yes meant enduring name-calling, death-threats, bombings, imprisonment and even death.

And yet, as a 26-year-old pastor of that small church in Montgomery – with a young family to raise – MLK wasn’t saying yes to his ease of life, but the calling to better the lives of others.  

Truly great leaders are not focused on themselves. They aren’t self-centered, don’t worry about what’s popular and don’t count the cost. They don’t rise and speak for themselves, but for a far greater cause. [Click to tweet.]

On this day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we celebrate what truly great leadership looks like. And in being reminded of his voice and dream, we see not only an example of what it looked like in the past, but what it must look like going forward.

My friends, Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us through not only his words and actions, but in his life and death, that the progressive struggle to better ourselves, elevate our neighborhoods and change our world is an unending process.

We should strive toward it daily. And it must continue with each new generation.    

The picture of Martin Luther King Jr. hanging in my office reminds me that seemingly ordinary people can in fact change the world. That love is far more powerful than hate. And that our best efforts must begin at home. That’s a place where we all can start.

P.S. Join me on today’s Live Inspired Podcast as I share the immense power love has had in my life. I share a short excerpt from my first book ON FIRE and the three simple words that changed my life. Listen to ep. 221 here.

1 reply on “Martin Luther King Jr. and his courage to step up”

This is an inspiring and challenging blog post, John. Thanks so much for sharing. It connects well with the incredible message in the movie “Just Mercy” that I just watched in theaters yesterday–about the true life story of Bryan Stephenson who is putting his life on the line to try to win Justice for many in prison or poor who cannot afford to stand up for their rights. I hope you can check it out or the book, if you haven’t already. I’d love to hear you interview Bryan some day too.
Thanks for all you do.

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