Nearly 54 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, his civil rights activism and lessons in basic human decency are as relevant today as ever. As I sat down and reread some of his speeches and writings, I was struck by how poignant the messages continue to be and how important the lessons have become. I chose a few that stood out to me with the intention of exploring them here. Why did I do this? Of course, I believe in equality for all — that there are inalienable rights given to every person no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. But I did it because I’m a fallible human who’s trying every day to be a better human.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Given in 1962 at New York City’s Park Sheraton Hotel, this speech honored the Emancipation Proclamation — noting that, a century later, so much more needs to be done in the fight for equality. Yet Dr. King had faith that justice would prevail.
There are so many challenges that we face, and those challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable. One way to overcome them is by having a little faith that we’ll get through it. Whether that comes down to belief in a higher power, your own abilities, or both, having faith that things will work out even though there’s no clear path forward is often the start of bold journeys.
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
Dr. King said this during his second public appearance after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His speech was heard by an estimated 2,500 students, faculty, and visitors. Titled “The Future of Integration,” it was, in part, about recent riots and the upcoming elections. In it, he implored the audience to do what’s right now and to not wait for better timing.
This sentiment reminds me that when I make a mistake or unintentionally wrong someone, it’s never too late to own it, apologize, move forward in a better way — and remember to not let my ego stand in the way of doing what’s right.
“I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems.”
These words were spoken in 1967 at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. The address, titled “Where Do We Go From Here?,” found Dr. King considering all that had been accomplished in the decade since the Montgomery bus boycott.
As we consider our current state of affairs, it’s clear to me that fear, hatred, and divisiveness are not the path forward. In the midst of all the pessimistic news and grim social posts, love still manages to break through. Those stories of neighbors helping neighbors, total strangers lifting others in need, and communities coming together despite their differences — they remind me that love is not lost, that we simply need to shine a brighter light on it. Because I agree with Dr. King: It’s the only answer to our collective problems.
I hope you have time to listen, read, and reflect on some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words today. They’re as important as they ever were.