Lessons from the life of MLK


Original llustration by Aryauna Thompson

President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in November of 1983 in the White House Rose Garden designating a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., to be observed on the third Monday of January.

The third Monday of each January, we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many, this is simply a day free from work or from school. For some, it is a symbol of the triumph of civil rights over a terrible injustice. For me, it represents the birth of someone who surpassed the mediocrity we all too often settle for and fought for goodness in our corrupt world.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. Ninety years later, we remember this day, not for his birth, but what he chose to do with the life he was given. He overcame countless obstacles and made the seemingly impossible possible. He fought earnestly for those he loved and for what he held dear. He relied on faith and peace to change the hearts of skeptics, oppressors and victims alike. He turned the world on its axis and because of his work, persistence, faith, peace and love, the world will never be the same.

It is true that we will never see an end of struggle, but it is also true that we can choose to focus on the beauty of the world and how we can bring that beauty to others.”

— Aryauna Thompson, 12

He is immortalized in history books among countless others, but often the heart of his story is forgotten as quickly as it is learned. We know him as the man who brought civil rights into existence, but how many of us see him for who he was beyond his movement? His values, his compassion, his determination–this is what I choose to see and learn from and remember today. Throughout this piece, I will focus on his words, his legacy, and how I can follow in his quiet, but mighty footsteps. I encourage everyone to do the same.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Our society is inevitably bombarded with cruelty, injustice and violence. In King’s life, the ultimate injustice was fought in the struggle to obtain civil rights. Today we have mass shootings, brutal wars against countries, religions, freedoms and innocence, fatal cases of bullying, illness–the list goes on. In each of our own lives, it is easy to distinguish hatred all around us. Whether it be in our hallways at school, our office buildings, on our television sets, on the roads we travel–injustice is in our own backyards. The question is “how do we stop it?”

With all he has done for the well-being of humanity, it is easy to forget his most defining quality–he is a human being, just like you and me.”

— Aryauna Thompson, 12

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” -Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1957 speech to Montgomery, Alabama

When faced with the endless trials and tribulations the world slings at us each day, we can do three things. First, we can support our fellow brothers and sisters through each struggle. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” If we are willing to stand with each other and comfort each other through times of struggle, we will grow stronger together. Instead of taking on each struggle alone, we need to depend on others and be dependable for them do the same.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1963 book, Strength to Love

Second, we can stand for goodness even when all odds are stacked against us. As soon as we allow darkness to spread by our own free-will, our fight has ended. If we expect the world to get better, we have to be willing to do the right thing, no matter the consequences. This is one more reason being there for one another is vitally important. It is easier to stand among one’s friends than it is to face darkness in solitude.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1957 sermon, “Loving Your Enemies

And third, we can have hope that there is more in store for our futures and those of our children and our children’s children. We can have hope our efforts will not be in vain, just as Dr. King did before us. The struggle against evil will never end. We live in a world of darkness, but also one of beauty. It is true that we will never see an end of struggle, but it is also true that we can choose to focus on the beauty of the world and how we can bring that beauty to others. Where there is hope, there can be no fear.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” -Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1964 speech to Oberlin College

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took the injustice of his time and stood against it so wholeheartedly he changed the hearts of countless people of countless backgrounds. With all he has done for the well-being of humanity, it is easy to forget his most defining quality–he is a human being, just like you and me. He changed history with nothing more than his heart, his courage, his compassion and the gifts he was born with. What then can we say in defense of our indifference? Although the injustices of the world today differ from those King faced many years ago, injustice is injustice. We must maintain compassion and courage inspired by his deeds.

“We must all learn to live together as brothers–or we will all perish together as fools.” -Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1965 speech to Oberlin College

Let us make today about peace, about courage, about loving our fellow man and about having a hope which shines through the fog of oppression. Let us celebrate this day not only in remembrance of King’s life but also through application of the countless lessons he sought to teach along his journey.