By Jack Levine
In celebration of Martin Luther King Day, I’m pleased to share this very special memory.
It was late August, 1963. I was 12. I remember my father calling me into his room. The radio was on, and I heard cheering. It was not a baseball game kind of cheer…..it seemed louder and longer. It was a sustained roar.
My dad, aged 72 and blind, pointed in the direction of the radio with one hand, and put his other index finger to his lips….he was telling me (Jack Levine) to be quiet….and to listen.
Next I heard the voice. A combination of speech and chanting. The cadence was like none I ever heard. The word music rose and fell, the power was like a wave….swelling and then resting, soon to rise again.
My father’s blind eyes were shining in the window light. He was tearful, his lips pursed, his head gently nodding in agreement, timed to the melody of the voice. Seeing my father so moved gave me a sense that history was being made.
There, in that sun-bathed room, I was captured by the sound of that voice, and felt the power of its persuasion. I never saw my father so attentive. All of his energy focused on listening to the words.
“I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Dr. King’s monumental speech commanded the attention of not only the half-million who gathered in view of Abraham Lincoln’s statue on the Washington Mall, but touched the hearts and influenced the minds of a nation to pay attention and take action.
That speech on that sweltering August day ignited a charge of energy that would not be stopped…..not by gushing fire hoses, snarling dogs, enraged threats, church bombs or snipers’ bullets. At the tender age of 35, that eloquent preacher from Atlanta set in motion a flood of individual and collective actions which would change how people viewed not only our neighbors, but ourselves.
The impact of that leader’s courage was felt in that tumultuous decade of the 1960’s, and for generations to come.
The ideals of Dr. King’s mission were rooted in his Christian faith; his principles and civil disobedience techniques were borrowed from Gandhi. But no matter our faith, race, ethnicity, gender or age, the heroic vision and oratorical brilliance of Dr. Martin Luther King is a beacon for us all.
In the 11-year period between 1957 and 1968, Martin Luther King traveled more than a million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice to be protested, and action to be taken.
At age 36, he was the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Although his life was cut short at age 39 by an assassin’s bullet in April, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy lives in anyone who chooses to question those who would hold us captive to old ideas and discriminatory policies.
While Dr. Martin Luther King was by no means a perfect person in all of his behaviors (who among us is?), the courage and commitment of this one man has left a legacy which I believe should be taught to our young and admired for the lasting impact he created.
Has all that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned come to pass? Not yet. Has his legacy brought forth a tremendous surge of change in attitude, law, and economic opportunity? Yes.
But there’s so much still to be accomplished. Justice is not static…it’s active, and must be actively asserted and strictly guarded every day. The fight for freedom has no limitations as long as the struggle for justice continues. Every generation has its opportunity and obligation to recognize problems and create solutions.
In memory and in tribute to those who marched, fought and sacrificed for the rights we hold dear, being responsible citizens is one of our highest callings. Please remember, too, that our armed forces are ambassadors for our freedoms. You may disagree with policy decisions that put our fighting forces in harm’s way but they and their families deserve our respect and support during their service and if they survive, upon their return home.
I believe we owe every public official, at every level, a word of appreciation for their willingness to offer themselves for elective office. We can at the same time debate and even disagree with their actions, but also show respect for the willingness to seek and hold office.
With our conscience and personal experience as our guide, exercising our right to communicate our ideas and concerns to elected officials is both our right and our responsibility. Silence is not golden when it comes to the duties of citizenship.
During my 35-plus year professional life I’ve learned that progress is not achieved by intention alone. Strategic advocacy is the only way wrongs can be righted and ideas can be transformed into action. All of our voices and votes are needed, and support of advocacy organizations is vital to assure your perspectives are represented. As examples to our children and grandchildren, let’s commit to be ardent and effective advocates.
The Advocate’s Credo:
Thou art my child, my parent, and my elder,
I love thee best,
But could not love thee half as much,
Loved I not all the rest.