Talk about an authentic leader. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. left everything he had on the playing field. He gave everything he had. He sacrificed everything. Even giving his very own life. For each and every one of us. Even those, who did not respect him. Even those, that did not like him. He sacrificed himself for them, also. Dr. King lived his life, for the betterment of all of humankind.
He did not just talk about it. He could not tweet about it. He didn’t have benefit of a Facebook Page to tell his story, or an Instagram account to reframe how he looked on his worse day. He did not have Periscope or Facebook Live to communicate his authentic message when the media refused to, or worse, when they changed it. When others twisted his words, or put words in his mouth, he did not have a YouTube account to set the record straight. No, Dr. King did not have any of these tools.
He only had his hands, his aching, always walking feet, his elequent voice and much over-used vocal cords. His values and principles. The power of his convictions. His overflowing and undying love — for others. And with only this, a $600,000 annual budget and 70 employees, this one man helped to change the world. This — one man.
I am honored to know and call my play father the one man who was Dr. King’s chief lieutenant in the civil rights movement — one Andrew Young, pictured to the far right in the above photo of them together. Through Andrew Young, I have had the distinct honor and priviledge of coming to a deeper and more intimate and ingrained understanding of his friend, Dr. King. And the one thought that remains with me is ‘an unfinished work.’ Or said as Dr. King said in his own words, in the title of his final book, “Where Do We Go From Here?”
You see, Dr. King was about about more than race relations, or even fighting racism. These were and remain important fights — not only for African-Americans and oppressed people of every race — it remains important for the health and soul of a nation. We must heal from these breaches. That said, Dr. King said in his own words, “our movement is here to redeem the soul of America, from the triple evils of racism, war and poverty.” Dr. King tied his work not only to the fight of an oppressed people, but to the very Constitution, Bill of Rights and ethic of a nation. To the core of the most powerful nation in the world — the United States of America.
In the end, Dr. King largely achieved what he sought out in the areas of advancement of our civil rights. He made a meaningful if very pained (hurtful to him, personally) contribution to the efforts to confront a nation’s contridiction around the issue of war. In the final chapter of his life, Dr. King had focused his attention squarely on the issue of poverty. He called it the Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. King had of course a deep and core desire to uplift the plight of the African-American community, but he also recognized that most poor people in America were in fact poor white people. Dr. King was known to have said, paraphrasing, ‘you cannot legislate goodness, and you cannot force someone to respect or like you. The only way to social justice in a capitalist country, is through economics and ownership.’
Unfortunately, Dr. King’s life ward cut short on the very eve of the launch of this last and crucially important campaign to fight poverty in America. And nearly 50 years later, we all now have a responsibility to pick up the mantle and the unfinished work of Dr. King, Andrew Young and the others who walked arm in arm with this great man — all focused on making America and our world, better. We need a new generation of leaders. A new generation of leaders, focused on the ‘we’ agenda, and not just the ‘me’ agenda that so many of us have mastered so well.
Make a decision that you can in fact ‘do well and do good too.’
Make a decision to read about something more than Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Make a decision to continue in earnest, Dr. King’s unfinished civil rights work.
Make a decision to help advance the continuing work of SCLC, the NAACP, the National Urban League, LaRaza, and outless other organizations that exist today focused on civil rights, social justice and the uplift of the human spirit.
Make a decision to join me and our team at Operation HOPE, in our continuing work around what we call our silver rights movement.
And I am honored to know and to call my friend civil rights icons the likes of Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian and the late, great Dr. Dorothy I. Height, as well as current and continuing leaders in that movement, including my friends Doris Crenshaw, Dr. King’s daughter Dr. Bernice A. King, his son, Martin King, III, my friend Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, and so many others. But saluting the past and rooting others on is simply not enough. We must act. We. Must. Act. Now.
And so, on this day, as we celebrate and acknowledge the life and legacy of this amazing 20th century prophet, let us also look to the future — and ask ourselves what is it that we can do to continue this critically important, unfinished work. How do we now, make this work out own.
John Hope Bryant