This weekend, as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded of the strength and courage of convictions that led to the extraordinary, long-lasting impact he had on this country – on history – before his untimely death at an assassin’s hand at age 39.
Dr. King was a gifted speaker, and, through his activism, challenged people to examine what was really going on in our nation, in their communities, and in their own hearts. These questions made many uncomfortable, and I’m sure many did not like the answers they found when they looked deep within themselves. But, as we have often seen through time, being comfortable and maintaining the status quo does not always mean being right.
Research Dr. King’s speeches and you’ll be provided with examples of his oratory skills and words that reflect the moral compass that surely guided and informed his ministry and mission. One of his quotes has, for years, though, struck a particular chord with me: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Dr. King took on contentious issues when many would have preferred he wait for a “better time” to do so, to prolong the push that began the momentum for remarkable change in our country. Yet he saw injustice and did not hesitate, accepting the call to help spearhead the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks’ historic refusal to give up her seat to white passengers. Dr. King and others led that charge – at significant personal peril – and galvanized others to believe that the time was right – that it was right – to push for equality. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation on public buses unconstitutional, a significant victory for the Civil Rights movement.
As he continued to rise to national prominence, he demonstrated time and again that any moment where he found injustice was the right one to call attention to it, not fearing arrests, threats and pressure he faced as the movement gained ever more ground. His efforts earned him many accolades, including the Nobel Peace Prize. He remains the youngest recipient of that honor.
More than 45 years after his death, we are still called to answer the question that his statement raises: “If not now, then when?”
On Monday, people from around the country will celebrate Dr. King’s legacy through service to others. From small, individual efforts to community-wide MLK Day of Service events, people will take time to do something right for their neighbors and towns.
We know, though, that his message resonates far beyond the day set aside in his honor. As we continue through this new year, let us embrace Dr. King’s words and let his very simple concept of “right” guide us as we continue to work together to improve our communities and create a world that sees not our differences, but the things that Dr. King knew are common in all of us.