Today’s challenges in keeping Dr. King’s dream alive
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Editor’s Note: Following is the text of Wendell Waller’s speech for the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday observance on Jan. 20 in Lakeland High School. It is being published in observance of Black History Month.
To the members of the planning committee for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, and your chairperson, Ms. Vanessa Savage; to members of the local chapter of the NAACP, and your president, Charles O. Christian; to members of the clergy; to platform guests; to our elected officials; to Pastor Snowa, who was so gracious in her introduction of me; and to all assembled, I bring you greetings. For I am indeed humbled and honored to serve as the keynote speaker for this great celebration as we pause to remember a great American, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today, I would like to share with you some of my personal thoughts and reflections about this day in particular and the challenges that we all face in keeping the King dream alive.
I do believe that it is important for us to remember that today’s celebration is not just for the African-American community, but this celebration is for those who believe in freedom; for those who believe in justice; and for all those who believe in doing what is right; for this is a celebration for those who believe in righteousness; and for those who understand the importance of holding firm to the words of the prophet Amos which says &uot;let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.&uot; Today, we pause to reflect on those ideas and values that are precious to all of us; ideas and values that are not based on race, gender, class, or religious preference, but are based on the human worth and dignity of all humankind. Today we should re-commit ourselves to being sensitive to the authentic human values and cultural contributions of each ethnic group in our society.
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For today we celebrate, not just the King dream, but we celebrate the American dream. We are celebrating the ideas, on which this nation was founded – we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. It was once said that &uot;those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.&uot; And so today we remember, not just a man, but we remember his mission; today, we remember not only his life, but we remember the lessons that he taught; today, we remember not only his eloquence, but we remember his example. It is, therefore, important that we not simply celebrate his life, but we must see this as an opportunity to embrace his ideas; to embrace his message; and to embrace his convictions. And this will not be easy for us in that there are many challenges that we now face.
And one such challenge is the issue of complacency. Because of the accomplishments made over the years, there are many who now feel as though the struggle has ended; that there is little now for us to do. But we must keep in mind that the struggle continues.
Maybe the venue has changed, but the struggle continues. When senior citizens must choose between medical care and staying warm in the winter, it says that the struggle continues; when a young teenage girl gives birth to a baby and feels that her only choice is to abandon the child, and the child is left to die in a deserted field, it says that the struggle continues; when a young female police officer is gunned down in the streets of Norfolk, it says that the struggle continues; when war ships are sailing for the Persian Gulf and young men and women are being asked to shed their blood on foreign soil, it says that the struggle continues; when there are more African-American males in prison than on college campuses, it says that the struggle continues; when the unemployment rate of African-Americans is twice that of whites and the poverty rate in the African-American community is triple that of whites, it says that the struggle continues; when there are no African American Senators in Congress and there are only 37 African- Americans in the House of Representatives, it says that the struggle continues; when questions are being raised about the need for affirmative action, it says that the struggle continues.
For there are many social issues facing us today, and strength of this nation will be measured in large part by its ability to address many of the social ills that are facing us today. There is no time for us to grow complacent, but we must be willing to work while it is still day. Eli Wiesel once said, &uot;There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest&uot;
Success can sometimes breed complacency and complacency will result in shattered dreams and broken promises. If there was ever a time for us to answer the clarion call for service, it is now. If there was ever a time for us to make a difference in the communities in which we live, it is now. If there was ever a time for us to be an instrument for truth and justice, it is now. There is no time for us to grow complacent, but we must be willing to do whatever we can, as often as we can.
Another challenge facing us is the issue of courage. If we are to embrace the ideas of Dr. King, we must be people of courage. We must be willing to stand up and be counted. We must stand, even when we have to stand-alone. It is important that we remember that doing what is right is not always easy. And we too must remember that doing what is right may not win us the support of others. But yet we do what is right, not because of the audience, but because it is right; we do what is right, not to be complimented, but because it is right. If we are to embrace the ideas of Dr. King we must be people of courage. We must be willing to take the position that may not be the most popular, but we must be willing to take that position just the same. Dr. King once said that we must &uot;build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.&uot; It was also Dr. King who said that the &uot;ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of conflict and controversy.&uot;
Unfortunately, there are many who lack the courage that is necessary in order to make a lasting difference. Every now and then God gives us the opportunity to stand up for what is right; to stand up for what is fair and to stand up for what is just; but all too many times we don’t seize the moment. We are too afraid to do what is right while facing the harsh winds of criticism. But I would much rather be criticized for doing what I felt in my heart to be right, than to be complimented for doing what I knew to be wrong. We must remember that courage is acting in spite of fear. For it is always better for us to die on our feet, than to live on our knees.
If we are to embrace the ideas of Dr. King we must be people of courage. We cannot be afraid of what might happen to us if we speak out, but we must ask ourselves the question what happens if I keep my silence. We must accept the fact that if one hurts, we all hurt; that if one suffers injustice, that we all suffer injustice. We must consider every problem as a chance for us to do our very best. We must remember that all dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.
If we are to embrace the ideas of Dr. King there must be commitment. We must commit ourselves to touching the lives of others. Not touching them in a way that is superficial and meaningless, but we must be willing to touch them in a way that changes their outlook on life. There are many people who simply need to know that they matter; that they have not been forgotten. Today we have the opportunity to re-commit ourselves to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Today we have the opportunity to re-commit ourselves to spending time with those in need; spending time at a nursing home, or spending time at a children’s hospital, or spending time at a homeless shelter, or spending time donating blood. If we want to truly celebrate the life of Dr. King, the best way we can accomplish this is by re-committing ourselves to the service of others.
Lest we forget, greatness is never measured by what we get, but it is always measured by what we are willing to give. When we can give our lives in service for others, we are considered great. Dr. King once said that &uot;everybody can be great. Because everybody 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.&uot;
For the greatness of Dr. King was not measured by what was given to him, but his greatness was measured by what he gave to others. He gave us hope for a brighter tomorrow, and he gave us the strength to live out today. If we are to celebrate the ideas of Dr. King, we must continue to give hope to those who are hopeless and we must give strength to those who are without strength.
If we are to embrace the ideas of Dr. King we must have confidence. We must be confident in the notion that justice will prevail. We must be confident in knowing that good will always prevail over evil, and that light is always greater than darkness. In this world in which we live, it is so very easy for us to lose faith; to lose hope; to lose confidence in the fact that truth will prevail. But yet, if we are to embrace the ideas of Dr. King we must do so with confidence. We must be confident of this one thing and that is that truth placed in the dungeon of despair and degradation will break free and rise again.
With so much bad news being reported, it is sometimes difficult for us to remain positive. Because of the darkness of today, it is sometimes difficult for us to see a brighter tomorrow. But this is the confidence that we must have. We must have confidence in knowing that all things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. We must have confidence in knowing that no weapon that is formed against us shall prosper.
It is this level of confidence that we must possess if we are to embrace the ideas of Dr. King. We must be willing to walk and not faint, and we must run and not be weary. In closing, I want to read to you a poem that was written by my daughter, Brittany, a tenth-grader at Nansemond River High School, which she has entitled &uot;Decision Making is a Maze.&uot;
So many choices
But only one way
Each step that is taken
Is either a mistake
But which way must be taken?
The one that leads to the door of self-being
The one that is less traveled by others
The one with mountains, valleys, and hills
But how can you reach your destination?
The eagerness to succeed
The patience to endure
And the understanding of mistakes
For without them tomorrow wouldn’t be.
Thank you and may God bless you all!