I did not have a full appreciation and understanding for the life (and death) of Martin Luther King, Jr. until I went to college. And I’m embarrassed to even write that. I grew up in rural New Jersey, and I was not exposed to many different cultures during my childhood. It’s not that my parents didn’t want to make us more aware; however, there weren’t many people who were much different from us where I grew up. As one of many caucasians, I can still name the 3 African-American students in my entire high school.
As a sophomore at the University of Dayton, I enrolled in a course that would shift the course of my life forever. The class was called “Faith & Justice,” and I was changed indefinitely as a result. Taught by Professor Doyle, he engaged us with stories, books, and personal testimonies from people like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. It was King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that allowed me to fully understand the connection between faith and justice. It was his faith in and love for Jesus that formed King’s every word and decision. His imprisonment sparked freedom for so many in the name of Christianity.
Some 16 years after that life-changing class in college, I find myself embarrassed yet again. Just last week I sat in church with about 100 young people and 20 adults who participated in a “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.” During the closing prayer service, we listened to a large portion of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. From my vantage point in the pew, as I heard and felt King’s chilling dreams run through my entire body, I could see the large picture of King with a giant crucifix behind him. It took that visual image to remind me that I had forgotten about the important connection between King’s faith and his fight for justice. For the past 7 years, King’s holiday merely marked an available Monday in January for an annual meeting I always facilitated because it was an easy weekend for people to travel. With time and tasks eroding the true meaning, I failed to properly mark the remembrance of an incredible human being who was the voice for so many who were voiceless.
Let me make a solemn vow to never forget the true meaning of the important holiday we just celebrated. And may I never forget the faith and non-violent fight for justice in which King lived (and died) for. In honor of this inspiring man’s legacy, I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” May you bear light and bring love wherever you go on life’s journey.