“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say…I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Drum Major Instinct” (1968)
By Dawn Onley
Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his civil rights work, tirelessly advocating for basic human rights for black Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. His work helped to bring an end to racial segregation and he was instrumental in securing voting rights legislation for African-Americans in the United States.
What is less known is how much King advocated for the poor, the downtrodden, the marginalized, women, and others who were disenfranchised. A year before he was murdered, he started the Poor People’s Campaign and he was busy working on another march on Washington that would highlight the need for improved jobs, better education and a redistribution of wealth.
King was a Baptist minister and he walked the talk. He didn’t just sit in his pulpit and preach to the churched. He went out in the community. He cared about “the least of these.” He did what was extremely dangerous, selfless, uncomfortable and burdensome to make the journey easier for any group on the fringes of society.
In this way, he was like Jesus. Even though King had some moral shortcomings, and let’s be honest, which human being doesn’t have flaws, he sacrificed his life for the America he had faith that we could become. He used his time on earth to empower. He used his voice to bring about justice and equality. He spread love not hate.
He used his power for good. King showed up. He knew from his Biblical teachings that for whom much is given, much is required.
He was a threat to those who didn’t want to see a just America. And like Jesus who is believed to have been crucified at 33 years old, King was killed at 39.
On this national holiday where we celebrate all that King stood for, let us pause to consider ways that we can emulate his work to improve the lives of others.
Homelessness continues to increase in some U.S. cities. Food banks in some areas are reporting shortages. There are young people who need our guidance and support. There are people incarcerated who could use some hope. There are senior citizens and people who are inflicted with illnesses, who would welcome a visit and a small piece of our time. There are people addicted to drugs who need our prayers. There are organizations doing God’s work that need our financial support and other resources.
The need is great. But if we each stretch ourselves to do a little more, people will benefit and the need will start to decrease.
That’s how I want to devote more of my free time this year. I want to increase the ways in which I volunteer to serve others. I want to spend more of my time and resources doing the work that benefits people and communities.
Dr. King left us with a wonderful example. Let’s use it to light our own paths and to heal our nation.