What is in your life’s blueprint? One of the greatest orators to ever walk this earth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asked this critically important question to a group of junior high students from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October of 1967, a few months before his life would be taken way too soon.
I can’t help but think about what it would have been like to be a teenager sitting in the room that day. To hang on to every word as he rested one arm on the podium and used the other to point at you for emphasis. Could those young people ever had imagined that they were in the presence of one of the most influential people in world history? A man who sought to better others and the world that he lived in. A world in which he changed the course of history with a recipe of courage and love.
The I Have a Dream Speech overshadowed many other great speeches that Dr. King delivered. The What is in Your Life’s Blueprint may be one of those!
For me personally, words are very important. Each and every word that comes out of our mouths should be drenched in intentionality. As I wrote this week, it made me realize how intentional Dr. King was with his words. Therefore, there are a lot of direct quotes from his speech in this post as there is very little explanation needed from a man of great words. There are also not enough words in this post to be able to capture the entire speech and I would highly encourage you to watch the speech for yourself (link provided at the bottom).
Dr. King masterfully sets the tone for the message. In his booming voice, he asks, “what is in your life’s blueprint?” He reminds the kids that, “this is the most important and crucial period of your lives for what you do now may well determine which way your life should go.” He shares with them that, “whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect.”
Architects produce blueprints. Dr. King says a blueprint, “serves as a pattern, the guide, the model for those who are building the building. A building is not well erected without a sound and solid blueprint. Each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid, and sound blueprint.”
As leaders, we need a blueprint. One in which Dr. King says is, “sound and solid.” Without that, the organizations we build will crumble. Not only that, but our personal brand that we have worked so hard to build, will crumble too. Have a blueprint. Build something “sound and solid.”
Here are the three things that Dr. King suggested the audience includes in their blueprint:
1. Deep Beliefs
He says, the kids should have a, “deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and own somebodyness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count, always feel that you have worth, always feel that your life has ultimate significance.”
He appealed to the young people, “you should not be ashamed of your color.” He references the processing of hair (to straighten) and cosmetics aimed at black people being able to lighten the color of their skin.
Feel that you “count,” have “worth” and your life has “ultimate significance.” How many people needed to hear these deep beliefs of his then? So many today could benefit from these words of wisdom. We are all uniquely crafted individuals and need to remember that and believe it.
2. Achieve Excellence
In point two, King says, “you must have as a basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor.” He guides them to determine, “what your life’s work will be and once you discover what it will be, set out to do it and do it well…doors of opportunity are opening to each of you. The great challenge facing you is to be ready to enter these doors as they open.”
Then he shares some extremely poetic and inspiring words that I will not even attempt to narrate.
“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.
If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley, but be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
Our determination to achieve excellence should be found in anything we do, regardless how we are called to lead. As he advises, know “your life’s work, set out to do it, and do it well.” If we follow those three simple steps in our leadership journeys, we too will better others and the world we live in.
Lesson three, “commitment to the eternal principals of beauty, love, and justice.” He says two important things here, “however young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live, you have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody, so you must be involved in the struggle for freedom and justice.”
Two key things here. He did not specify race when talking about this responsibility or who to make life better for. He used the word, “everybody.” Dr. King calls all of us to make people’s life better and for all of us to be, “involved in the struggle for freedom and justice.” As leaders we should strive to make life better for EVERYONE and give EVERYTHING for the causes of freedom and justice.
He also warns the audience, “don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them.” Dr. King fulfilled his commitment to justice through a conduit of love, not hate. Love that appreciated the beauty in every human being. The world could benefit from a little love and deep appreciation for each other as human beings.
He committed to moving forward with this great quote, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Dr. King was burdened by injustice, he dealt with his burden through forward motion.
As he did with all speeches, Dr. King casted vision. Not of what was, but what could be. Anytime I speak to a group on leadership, vision is a key part of it. I strongly believe that vision is simply, “the ability to see further.” I show the picture below in the presentation and share an excerpt from this I Have a Dream Speech:
“I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
There were people that heard these words in real time that believed the man and wanted to see the day when these kids joined hands, but they probably couldn’t actually see it. Dr. King did. He had vision. He could see further.
I believe with all my heart that Dr. King saw this day. The day this picture was taken in November of 2020 in Acworth, Georgia . A picture of my son sitting right in the middle of his buddies. His buddies that are black, white, brown, and mixed race. “Little boys,” that come from different backgrounds made up of different stories of how they arrived at that exact moment in life.
That evening the boys unified as a one to punch their ticket to their league championship game. Imagine if we could unify as a nation, just like these boys did, and just like Dr. King expected us to do? What if as leaders, we fully understood our awesome responsibility to play a role in this unification? What if…
So what is in your life’s blueprint?
See other Leadership and Main Posts on the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here.