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Five Lessons from the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Yesterday, I participated in the Sacramento MLK 365 March for the Dream. During the march, as I reflected on its theme, "Honoring the Past and Impacting the Future," I recalled the day I got the news. It was my sophomore year in high school, and I was waiting for a ride after finishing up an after-school activity. It was an early Thursday evening, and I was hanging out with friends as I leaned against the wall of the school. Suddenly, one of my classmates frantically ran up and tearfully said, "Someone killed Martin Luther King!" I didn't fully grasp what it meant, but I sensed that what happened had extinguished our innocence.


I had little appreciation of the power of Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence or spiritual perspective until I began to study them more closely, years after his death. I, like a number of my young and impatient friends and classmates, thought his philosophy was impractical and foolish. Over the years, I learned several powerful lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They are lessons of truth that can help us, individually and collectively, fulfill our potential as spiritual and human beings. Here are five of them:

1. Love, even people we don’t like. Dr. King once stopped an armed mob and said: “We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we live by. We must meet hate with love.”


2. Paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow. The essence of Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech focused on creating a bright new future regardless of how the facts appear at the moment. In that iconic speech, he speaks of new possibilities for society. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."


3. Act according to your highest values. During the Civil Rights Movement, many were tempted to resort to violence to advance the cause. Some did. Dr. King, like Mahatma Gandhi before him, called upon his followers to adhere to a higher standard. He reminded his followers, “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”


4. We are all interconnected. Dr. King poignantly stated, "It really boils down to this: All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."


5. Be of service. In his speech, The Drum Major Instinct, Dr. King proclaims, Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”


These are just some of the lessons learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was indeed one of the great transformational leaders in contemporary history. As we continue to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we say thank you. And do our best to live up to the ideas and ideals that he embodied.

Peace & Blessings,


James

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