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Monday, January 17, 2011

Personal reflections about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

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A photo of a photo, from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: By Matt Lemmon (mattlemmon on Flickr) 
This is my favorite photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is very similar to my father's smile. I am so grateful to Dr. King for all that he did to make this world a better place.  His life's mission is so important to me because it caused me to grow up in a very different world than my forebears.


I have only seen photographs of separate water fountains for "white" and "colored."  The closest I have ever come to witnessing police brutality was in the movie "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman."  I grew up witnessing the silence and restraint that comes over African Americans in my family without understanding why.

When I was older, my parents explained to me how things used to be even in Illinois.  I never heard them speak of issues with white people.  They allowed me the freedom to see the world in a different light.  They instilled in me the knowledge that I could become or do anything I could imagine.  My father instructed me, "We never use the word can't in this house."

As I grew older, I realized my dad had to face a lot in order for him to be successful.  He shared with me one day that he had done it all so that life would be better for us one day.  I believe that is why Dr. King did what he did.  The desires of a father for his children are strong enough to change the world.  I am happy he brought peace and rest into the lives of my parents and grandparents in the golden years.  Life became much easier for them.

I think it is also a parent's instinct to know that you must creatively teach some principles to children without destroying their vision of the world and of the future.  My parents never had to stand over me to do chores or homework.  I think it was because they simply expected me to do my best without grilling me.  I remember that when I was very young I used to love to clean the floors.  I recognized that I could get the floors much cleaner if I would get down on my hands and knees with a bucket and sponge.

My dad sat and watched me one day, reflecting.  When I was finished, he said, "Promise me that when you grow up, you will not do that for anyone else."  I promised him I would not without asking why, but I did wonder.  I wondered why he would make that kind of request.  I know now that he was not asking me not to serve but not to be subservient.  In a large measure, because of Dr. King, I do not have to.

With regard to the silence, it stopped with my generation.  I am the first in my ancestral line to be able to fully and without reservation exercise the right to freedom of speech. I am careful with my words only to the extent that they do not hurt others.

Just because I was not old enough to experience the great struggles of the Civil Rights Era, it does not mean I am not aware of them or do not have a great appreciation for those who have paved the road for me.  I too have great cause to celebrate today!


More Tributes:

Why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is still remembered

Lessons about freedom from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

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