January, in the United States, for some communities, finds celebrations of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights leader of the 50s and 60s who was thrown into leadership of the civil rights movement during the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956. I work at Kansas State University, and we take the last week in January to offer a variety of events where people can celebrate the legacy of Dr. King. Dr. King’s last visit was at Kansas State University, so there remains a strong goal to keep that legacy alive. One of our celebrations is the laying of wreaths at the bust of Dr. King. For the past two years, I have been asked to offer a reflection for the wreath laying proceedings. I thought I’d share my reflection with you.
As we prepare to lay wreaths at the feet of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s remember his words, “The ultimate measure of persons is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”
For inspiration today, I look to Dr. King’s Letters from Birmingham Jail. Let us reflect on those eloquent words Dr. King wrote to his fellow clergymen who had publicly disagreed with his people’s public demonstrations.
King noted that he was in jail charged with “parading without a permit”. He said, “Injustice is here in Birmingham, if the Negro man cannot exercise his first amendment rights in acts of peaceful assembly demonstrating for change with non-violence.” You see, free speech was not recognized in Birmingham when exercised by a people deemed “unworthy” or “un-deserving.” They protested for the “Negro brothers and sisters smothering in airtight cages of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”
Dr. King emphasized, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
Dr. King’s message transcends faith beliefs and his legacy rises above many barriers – We must work today to cross those same walls to find common ground in our belief systems, races, nations, values and even political parties. “Rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the hills of creative protest!”
Yesterday, we heard from Four Star General Lloyd “Fig” Newton who echoed Dr. King’s admonishments that, “Humans are put on this earth to serve one another, and it goes beyond class and privilege.” Even Dr. King’s favorite song reflects his beliefs of service:
If I can help somebody, as I travel along. If I can cheer somebody with a word or a song. If I can show somebody, he is traveling wrong. Then my living shall not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a human oft. If I can bring back beauty to a world up wrought. If I can spread love’s message that a master taught. Then my living shall not be in vain.
Dr. King’s life and his beliefs take me to the words of contemporary music artist, Anderson .Paak, who says, “Cold stares could never put fear in me. What we’ve built here is godly. You can’t gentrify the hearts of Kings.”
May Kansas State University as a community defined by pluralism find the common ground to stand together against darkness and hate to find light and love.
As we close our gathering today, I ask that you greet those around you with your own word or action that communicates peace. “Every effort we make to connect is meaningful.”
Thank you for reading. I hope to write again, soon.