I have a weakness for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I know I am not alone in this. We are almost at the 50 year mark of his death, but his words still make me want to be a better person. To do more. To make change. To be part of the solution. To speak out. To act.
This morning, I attended a breakfast at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. It is named “The Freedom Breakfast”, and for the last 23 years it has not only celebrated the achievements of Dr. King but it has fully recognized the African-American leaders in our city who have made a difference in the quality of life – not only at the university but in the city as a whole. Today, however, it was the words of Chancellor Leo Morton that riveted me to my chair. He alluded to the fact that life is different now than it was in the early ’60′s. Sure, it’s better, he stated, bit it’s more difficult as well. There may no longer be big huge signs that say “Whites Only” or “No Blacks”, but sometimes, sometimes the meaning is still hanging in the air. Elusive. Secretive. Sneaky.
Words are powerful things. I never met Dr. King, but his words still sing through time. He and Abraham Lincoln may be the greatest speech writers of all time. Hands down. I can’t really walk through the Lincoln Memorial without crying. President Lincoln just holds on to the arms of his chair like he’s about to launch out of it to hand me a tissue. I wasn’t too far down the Freedom Trail in Alabama this summer when I had to pull the car over. Some fool had put a portion of a speech of Dr. King’s on a billboard. They should know that driving and crying are dangerous partners.
At the breakfast this morning, we were asked to sing along to the Black National Anthem. I knew the words without reading the program. Honestly, I never really knew this was the Black National Anthem. I knew it as a song you sing at rallies for equal rights, equal pay, fair labor practices and human rights. Today the words struck me as those that could have been sung at the “commitment ceremony” I attended this past weekend for friends who achieved the blessing of their church after 22 years together. These friends are not protected by the laws that secure my husband and me in marriage, nor are they officially allowed to use the word “married” to describe themselves, but the 3-minute ovation they received would and should marry anyone.
I see a great and continuing need for action and change. I will be a part of it. I have to be. And not just because Dr. King said, “We are not makers of history, we are made by history.”
Sing along with me now:Lift every voice and sing, ’til Earth and Heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty; Let our rejoicing rise, high at the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on ’til victory is won.