What Martin Luther King Jr. Means to Me
These four words have meant a lot to me from a very early age: Martin Luther King Junior.
Growing up in the predominately African-American city of Detroit, Michigan and attending the predominately African-American elementary school Temple of Faith Baptist School, learning black history was part of my day-to-day life from early on. My first impactful experience with Martin Luther King Jr.’s history happened when I was eight years old. Thanks to my considerably deep voice, I was selected by my church to memorize and recite MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech at one of our Saturday morning pancake breakfasts. As could be expected, I was extremely nervous... easily a 20 on a scale of 1 to 10. I practiced and practiced but still found myself frozen when I got up on stage in front of over 150 people. Searching through the crowd, I found my mother mouthing “go ahead, you’re ready,” and that gave me the strength I needed. I can’t tell you much about giving the speech, but I distinctly remember people standing in applause at the end. My mother told me afterward that I had never talked so loud.
Later it was time to decide which high school I would attend. There were three public schools in Detroit that I felt stood apart from the rest: Cass Tech, where the famous Diana Ross attended; Renaissance, the new school with all the smart kids; and finally Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK HS), which was actually the farthest from my home. There was no question about it, I chose to attend MLK HS. During my first tour of the building I knew this is where I needed to be.
At MLK HS, I met plenty of new friends. I had great educators and inspirational mentors – I am still in contact with some of them to this very day. It was during this time that I came to a greater understanding of some of MLK’s teachings and characteristics. His natural abilities to lead, his self-confidence, his determination and his adamant approach to non-violence are all things I couldn’t help but admire. I also learned more about his professional accomplishments and awards - some even after his death - such as winning the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Martin Luther King Jr. built his legacy by doing hard and thoughtful work. I am inspired to take that same approach in my personal and professional life, and always strive to embody his teachings on leadership and determination.
Almost 43 years after his death, the dream MLK spoke about in his famous speech has not been realized. But we are fortunate that those of us looking for inspiration, or who come from similar backgrounds, can embrace his message of hope as a framework to continue working toward that dream every day.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
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