Join with us as we celebrate the life and birth of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King with this tribute from our CEO, Thomas Lee. Together, we invite you to explore and reflect on MLK’s legacy beyond the typical annual newsfeed. His travels to ultimately become one of the towering figures in the Civil Rights Movement intersects precariously between the cross and the lynching tree.

Photo credit: oaktownart.com

King was continually evolving and refining his strategies for social justice, human rights, world peace, and economic self-sufficiency. A quick perusal will lead you to a pantheon of philosophers, thinkers, and agents of change that he could draw from with deft understanding and facility. He studied and revered Thoreau, was tutored in Gandhian strategies, and he and his wife were personal friends with NehruNorman Thomas, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

On April 4, 1967, Martin broke ranks and delivered, what many believe, his most important speech, Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence. “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Like Malcolm X before him, his focus broadened from civil rights to greater human rights. A year later to the day, Martin was killed on April 4, 1968. We were denied his magnum opus. 

We also must avoid suspending Martin in time. Martin’s I Have a Dream speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 is just a small parcel of a greater awakening he was striving to inspire. To learn more, we must direct our attention not only to his speeches but also his sermons. Within those cherished moments, we find a deeper view into his expansive mind and commitment. 

Days before his assassination, King was in Memphis, TN fighting for better working conditions and wages for sanitation workers as a part of a larger strategy within the Poor People’s Campaign. He planned to return to Washington and camp-out until legislation was passed for “poor people of all colors and backgrounds [could] assert and win their right to a decent life and respect for their culture and dignity.” Imagine that!

Martin’s wife, Coretta Scott King, shared this insight about her husband’s work: “As Black people in America, we’ve had four major challenges. Number one, end slavery; number two, end Jim Crow; number three, achieve civil rights; and number four, the real reason they killed my Martin, achieve economic inclusion. They didn’t kill my Martin over the speech “I Have a Dream,” they killed him over the speech he gave at Stanford University, “The Other America.” In that moment, King paints a picture:

“…the greatest tragedy of this other America is what it does to little children. Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies. As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams. Many people of various backgrounds live in this other America. Some are Mexican-American, some are Puerto Ricans, some are Indians, some happen to be from other groups, millions of them are Appalachian whites. Probably the largest group in this other America, in proportion to its size and the population, is the American Negro.”

Martin’s speech continues:

“It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good, solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine quality integrated education a reality. And so today, we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.”

These are the things we fight for every day at First Place for Youth. And this is why we celebrate the life, efforts, and sacrifice of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

Be Well,
Thomas