Today, across this nation, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The definition we use for community leadership at Leadership and Main is “the ability and the willingness to use your influence to better others and the world you live in.” Dr. King was able and he was certainly willing to utilize his influence to better others and the world he lived in. He exemplified it. He lived it. In reflecting on his tremendous influence today, here are three things we can learn from the life and legacy of Dr. King:
Dreams Inspire Hope
In one of the greatest and most well known speeches in United States History he shared his dream. To this day, no matter how many times I listen to it, it still gives me chills. He was such an incredible orator. The boom of his voice, the poetry of his words. From the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, he shared these immortal words in his I Have a Dream speech:
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
He did not dream small. He dreamed big. He went on to say that he dreamed that “sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character….little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” His dreams inspired the hope of a nation.
Small Can Be Big
Dr. King stood approximately 5’7″. This may come as a surprise to some. Small in stature, but big in many ways. Big on equality. Big on faith. Big on hope. Big on dreams. Big on doing the right thing. In fact, he said “the time is always right to do what is right.” He had big courage. There is the old adage “it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.” Webster’s Dictionary defines courage as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Some would say courage could be summed up simply by the willingness to overcome your fears. Dr. King was a generational leader that willingly displayed courage in the face of evil, racism, discouragement, discrimination, intimidation, and threats on his life. Later in his speech he told the people “we cannot turn back” His courage gave them inspiration to do just that.
He Was Burdened
In last week’s blog, The Mirror we dissected the Michael Jackson song Man in the Mirror and talked about how community leaders are burdened. As a community leader, you are burdened by the challenges facing your community. Every generational movement starts with a burden. The civil rights movement was a generational movement. As evident in one of his many powerful quotes, Dr. King was burdened by “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He could have easily succumbed to the intimidation, the threats, and all the other sources that would generate fear for an ordinary person. He could have stayed silent but felt that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Fortunately, Dr. King was courageous and did not remain silent. He chose to matter.
Dr. King was an ordinary human being, who decided to do extraordinary things. He used his God given talents to make a difference. In revisiting the first blog post George, we explored the story of community leader George Bailey from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. George received the rare gift to be able to see his community as if he was never born. His community looked a lot different without him in it. It was not good. The world would look a lot different if Dr. King never dreamed, decided to be small, or disregarded his burdens. This world would look a lot different without his leadership.
The best way to sum up the essentialness of an organization or a person is to ask this simple question. If you disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice? That is how you measure the essentialness of a person. Dr. King, we notice.
Ordinary To Extraordinary Intersection
Do you have a dream for your community? Do you have the courage to make it a reality? Does fear paralyze you from using your God given talents to make a difference? In his words, “life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others.” So what are you doing to better others and the world you live in?