As we celebrate a national holiday in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth in 1929, it is appropriate for ALL to take a moment to remember the optimism that Dr. King shared with the world despite the challenges he faced daily. He based his positive contributions to life on his belief in the essential goodness of humankind and the ability to forgive others for perceived and real transgressions. Few of us can match Dr. King’s courage or his vision for making the world a much better place than the one he found as a child and young adult. His love of life and his love of people gave focus to the movement he launched – seeking freedom and peace for all. He stated:
Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.
Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illumines it.
Having just experienced one of the most divisive elections in the history of the United States, I hope ALL will listen to the voice of Dr. King and hear his message of hope, joy, love, and the promise of a better future. We have wounds to bind; we have forgiveness to seek and give; we have bridges to build with one another to find consensus around serious social, political, economic, religion, and cultural issues. We cannot accomplish that consensus without understanding the message of love—one which Dr. King understood and displayed through his courage to live in love each day.
While there are countless individuals connected to Union who are living lives of love and courage every day, I wanted to point out three exemplary students and recent alumni who participated in Union’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars doctoral specialization. They are working to further the changes that Dr. King sought to effect. Marlon Smith works in Houston with black felons and the beloved community. Owen Cardwell, a civil rights activist and pastor in Richmond, Virginia, works with youth of incarcerated fathers. And, Deborah Richardson serves as executive vice president for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, connecting the American civil rights movement to today’s global human rights movement. Each reflects an intentional life well lived. Each has found their best self.
David McNally, one of my favorite leadership writers, recently penned a brief essay, “Rising Above the Turbulence: A Meditation for the New Year.” McNally wrote:
Your best self is the harmonious blending of the dynamic and interactive
elements of your soul, heart, and mind. Through the soul, we connect
to our transcendent spirit, through the hearts we connect to that which
we love, and through our minds, we connect to our creative genius.
When we nurture these three aspects of our lives, the rewards exceed anything that we could have imagined.
Today, as I think of Union and its emphasis on social justice, social responsibility, and community connectedness, I am reminded of Dr. King’s admonition: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” As we take time to remember and reflect on Dr. King’s contributions, let us also challenge ourselves in 2017 with the urgent question of “What are we doing for others?” And, let us take action and in so doing, find our best selves!
Please do take time to remember and honor Dr. King today, not only for his many contributions, but also for the impact of his life across the world—encouraging great accomplishments among all peoples who continue to seek and find their best selves.
Roger H. Sublett, Ph.D.