Thoughts on MLK Day

By: - January 19, 2015

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MLK Noble Acceptance SpeechToday we pause and remember civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. I can still remember the first time I watched footage of his “I Have a Dream” speech in history class. As a young man growing up in South Africa in the 1980’s Dr. King had a profound effect on my life because the speech he gave on August 23, 1963 in Washington DC caused me to question the world I was raised in. That speech changed the way I thought about the people around me and was instrumental in my family moving to the United States.

The “I Have a Dream” speech is his most famous oration and students study it in classrooms around the world. We all have our own version of the “I Have a Dream” speech and most of those dreams are now for our children. They include that our children will feel safe at school and that they won’t be labeled as “disruptive” or “difficult” or “bad”. We all have dreams that our children will be accepted and not ostracized, that they will be included and not excluded. We dream that they will be understood and loved.

But I don’t want to discuss our dreams for them because I want to share something Dr. King said a little over a year after that famous day in Washington DC. The following quote is from the speech he gave in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964 when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize. It is one of my favorites.

“I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.”

I love how he contrasts where we are (our “isness”) with where we should be (our “oughtness”). Our “isness” is the current state of events, it’s where we find ourselves. It’s the “now” that we live in. It’s where we are on the journey. But our “oughtness” is where we should be. It’s where we are called to be. It’s where we are meant to be. It’s the better day, the brighter tomorrow that we all long for. It’s where we get to stand in the sun.

The Nobel quote reminds me that nowhere is the contrast between “isness” and “oughtness” more evident than in the lives of our kids. They spend so much of their time living in fear when we want them to live a life free of fear. Through their own stories they have come to believe that adults can’t be trusted. That hurts us because we long for the day when they will trust us. It still hurts when they don’t trust us even though we know that we have to patiently and consistently walk beside them as they heal. We have to remember if we want to help them heal we need to connect with them and part of that connecting comes when we empower them.

I could keep going but there is no need. Our kids (like us) find themselves at a place of “isness” that is not their place of “oughtness”. We need to accept where they are on their journey and empower them and walk with them to where they ought to be. We have to help them find their voice. They need to know that thoughts, feelings, and opinions matter to us. We have to encourage them to express their feelings and we have to give them choices. We have to help them feel empowered.

We have to accept that our work is not done and that we need to stay faithful to the journey we are on. We cannot give up and we cannot give in because our kids need us. Our journey is one of empowering our kids, connecting with them, and ultimately being agents of healing in their lives. There is freedom in trusting safe people and there is freedom in living a life without fear. Dr. King believed that empowering people was an essential part of their journey to freedom. I couldn’t agree more.

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