Reflections of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. standing between Dr. Benjamin Spock and Monsignor Rice of Pittsburgh at the Solidarity Day Parade in which participants marched from Central Park to the United Nations on April 15, 1967. Photo: Museum of the City of New York

April 4th is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. In this era of angst, hope and activism re: black lives, LGBQT, violence/guns, immigration, #MeToo, climate change & more….the lessons of MLK seem more relevant than ever. AthleteBiz compiled personal reflections about Dr. King from athletes and leaders in our sport.

WILLIE BANKS

Martin Luther King Jr. was very inspirational in my life. I was influenced very young in life by the many social movements in the 60’s and 70’s. But no one had a greater impact than MLK. His message of hope for people of color was the only thing that gave me hope that one day it truly would be that I would be judged “by the content of [my] character” rather than “by the color of [my] skin”. That hope inspired me to be a better person so that when the time came, I would be of good character and therefore prepared to take advantage of the new opportunities that I could foresee expressed in his speech. For me, his words, combined with my parent’s direction, provided me the building blocks for being a professional athlete, parent, and citizen.

QUEEN HARRISON

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the activist, educator, orator, philanthropist and ultimately martyr, passed on so many lessons throughout his life that have affected me as a Black woman, an athlete, and an advocate for positive change in my community and abroad. I look to his example of knowing that most change will never be popular with those that it directly affects but in order to reach our full potential as human beings we must be willingly to work together peacefully/harmoniously to break down the barriers that divide us.

On a more direct level as a Black woman in America, the stories of MLK’s perseverance in the face of adversity always ignites a fire in me to be the best version of myself on and off the track!

No matter how far I get or dreams realized, I know through MLK’s example that the best thing I can ever accomplish in this lifetime is to help others bringing light to this world to drive out any darkness.

ASHLEY HIGGINSON

Martin Luther King Jr. is a reminder to me always of what can be achieved with the willingness to listen, to sit and hear the other side and patiently, with kindness, share your own pain and struggles and anger. So little gets accomplished without the willingness to converse – to step outside your own perspective and understanding. So much can be achieved when we sit and find common ground where there is variant difference. This resonates for me even more through the lens of athletic competition. Where we can find oneness in our pursuits and, hopefully, sharing and understanding outside the arena.

KENDRA CHAMBERS

There’s so many great things I can say about the man, Martin Luther King Jr. and the impact he’s made not only in my life but in others’, in the nation, and in the world.

He’s not just a name of your favorite street in the city or the author of a million great quotes and speeches, he was so much more. He was a beacon of light in a very dark space and time in America…for those unheard he spoke…for those at a loss for words he found sentences and spoke speeches…for those forgotten he shed light on…and for those unable to see a better future he offered hope and courage to know that we’d all get there some day.

As a person he’s inspired me to speak out when there is injustice especially against something you were born with or cannot change. One of my favorite quotes of his is “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – MLK

As an athlete he’s inspired me to keep going through adversity and travails but most importantly that just because something is one way right now does not make it right nor just, there is always room for growth and change.

BEN ROSARIO

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., sad as that date may be, it does serve as a good time to reflect on his undeniable influence on this country. Fifty years seems like a long time but it’s important to remember that in the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered to more than 200,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, Dr. King himself referenced the fact that it had been 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and that “100 years later the Negro still is not free.” Now we sit here in the United States in 2018 and many of the most pertinent issues of the Civil Rights movement are still prevalent today.

I begin with that because I believe it’s important that we, as a society, acknowledge where we are as we continue to try and move forward. Glossing over our many problems is a disservice to Dr. King, because he dared not gloss over anything. He called out the fallacy that was “separate but equal,” galvanized people of all races, colors and creeds to fight to improve civil rights in this country and his words and actions made a tangible difference that is still felt today.

As I reflect on Dr. King and what impact he has had on me personally I would say that he is the quintessential reminder that words without action are meaningless.

He was one of history’s great orators, yes, but he also walked hand-in-hand with the people…through the streets of Birmingham and Detroit and Montgomery and Selma. He was ridiculed, jeered, and jailed. He risked his life, and eventually his life was taken, for what he believed in. While all of that may make our own contributions to society seem minuscule, my takeaway is that we can still play a role in achieving Dr. King’s dream by living our lives with open minds and open hearts, with a fearless desire to learn about other cultures and with a promise to ourselves to fight wherever and whenever we see even the smallest injustice. As another of last century’s inspirational figures, John Lennon, once sang…”Imagine.”

Martin Luther King Jr. writes notes before delivering “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967. Photo: John C. Goodwin

HAZEL CLARK

As a young girl I recited Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech for our school assembly. I remember it like yesterday and memorizing it gave me plenty of time to reflect on his vision of a better world where people of all colors and backgrounds we are United. I have always tried to live my life focused on the universal traits that unite us not the societal factors that divide us. My friends are from all colors and backgrounds, yet we have a bond that transcends any racial, religious or cultural boundaries. One thing I am sure of is the heart sees no color and I shudder to think that some of my best friends would not be in my life if I allowed color or religion separate us.

One of my favorite moments at my first Olympics was looking around the dining hall and seeing people from all over the world, eating under one roof gathered to represent their countries with honor.

When you think about it, the Olympics embody Martin Luther King’s dream and I am truly fortunate to have experienced the power of the world coming together as one in the spirit of competition and good will first hand. I wish every day could be like those days in the Olympic village and the world would come together to strive for the only medal that truly matters, freedom and justice for all.

MERHAWI KEFLEZIGHI

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This powerful statement by Martin Luther King, Jr. forces me to think about and support people facing injustices that I myself am not facing. I would also hope that other individuals have the opportunity and ability to recognize the existence of injustices in our world, outside those injustices they are facing themselves.

Acknowledging these injustices is a first step to resolving them.

As a present day example, I am shocked by the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct in our society. The courage of the many women who have spoken out about this serious issue forces me to either acknowledge or deny the existence of this epidemic. By acknowledging the prevalence of something I thought was an infrequent occurrence allows me to be a compassionate ally for the “Me Too” movement. When there is a critical mass of compassionate allies, then we can focus our energies on resolving the problems, instead of debating whether these problems actually exist. I would also hope that someone who doesn’t think racism is prevalent in our society would believe the words and experiences of those who have historically been the victims of this particular injustice.

As good citizens of our society and our world, we must not only speak out about the injustices we face, but also acknowledge the injustices that our brothers and sisters are screaming passionately about. This is the most important lesson I have learned from the powerful words of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a lesson I am still working to fully demonstrate through my words and actions.

DEENA KASTOR

There has been no greater leader and voice for positive change in our country than Martin Luther King Jr.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of him is “courage,” yet it only took courage because he was creating the type of change that was morally responsible, a human rights movement, but not fully practiced or accepted nationally or globally. It only takes one act of courage, one voice of reason, for others to see what is right within our hearts and a sound mind. Yet, here we are again, relying on his words to get through a time of the #metoo movement and gun violence: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” or “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness,” or “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice of compassion is timeless and so important to repeatedly rely on.

JACK WICKENS

For some reason I remember the moment clearly. I was 11 years old when I heard that Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated. I recall my Uncle saying that “MLK was a troublemaker and it was bound to happen”. As a clueless 11-year-old white boy from a middle-class suburb I accepted that curt explanation.

A few years later I went to an all-boys high school in Newark, NJ. About half of my classmates, track team teammates and best friends were from the “inner city” and black. It was a priceless time of education…and enlightenment for me. My African-American friends seemed exactly like me…smart, loved running, always thinking about girls…yet I was repeatedly reminded of our differences. Most of them couldn’t afford to go to a “good” college. Most of them scored worse on the SATs than their grades and intelligence would suggest. Most of them witnessed shocking amounts of violence in their neighborhoods or in their families.

During my high school years, highly debated topics like affirmative action and the Black Power Movement felt more personal and real to me as I saw these topics through the eyes of my friends. Needless to say, my admiration for MLK and all that he stood for grew exponentially during these years. Perhaps more than anything I admire Martin Luther King’s bravery and his willingness to walk-the-talk.

I realize that, in many ways, I’m still a clueless white guy…but I’m so grateful for MLK and for the life experiences that have shaped my world view.

ANN GAFFIGAN

The 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination is quite a stunning reminder that while we may have move forward from that point since then, we have also regressed.

Case in point, Congress confirmed the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General a little over a year ago, despite his history of targeting African Americans as a prosecuting attorney, suppressing voters and pushing for unusually lengthy incarcerations. Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, had written a letter to Congress in 1986 opposing Sessions’ nomination as federal judge. Last year, Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read this letter to the Senate as part of a speech opposing Sessions’ nomination by President Trump as Attorney General. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) interrupted Warren, saying she had “impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” and the Senate voted 49-43 that Warren had violated Senate Rule 19.

Unfortunately, in 2018, our third-grade daughter comes home saying her teacher said that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful; we have to explain to her the other side of that issue and help her young mind understand that her beloved teacher’s opinion is, at best, not fact, and at worst, racist. Her Hispanic friends came to school the day after President Trump won the election worried that he was going to send them “back to Mexico” because of their heritage.

Instead of making sure our schools are well funded for essential items that truly impact a child’s education, such as books, supplies, technology and furniture, we are discussing arming teachers with guns.

African Americans pulled over by the police for even the most routine of traffic stops fear for their lives knowing that they could be shot and killed no matter how willingly they cooperate, and their family will get no answers and no justice.

As a nation, we are not following Dr. King’s teachings that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and instead are picking and choosing and further separating the haves and have-nots.

I do feel hope when I see prominent celebrities using their platform and voice, even if it means sacrificing public adoration or financial gain, to speak up about these injustices. We are going to have to re-learn some of Dr. King’s teachings and galvanize each other into a modern day civil rights movement to right the ship again.

Ann encourages our readers to move from talk to action. One idea she shared is to support Black Girls Code, whose goal is to provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040. Black BOYS Code is coming soon. http://www.blackgirlscode.com

STEVE FILLEBROWN

The lasting lesson I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King was that you do not have to sacrifice your values and principles to achieve your goals. He taught infinite patience and perseverance in the face of resistance, adversity, and sometimes outright treachery, staying the course even though quicker and easier paths might have been available to him. Individually, on a daily basis, we might not face issues of the same gravity that confronted Dr. King, but I think his teachings are still applicable to how we can live our lives.

JAMIE CHEEVER

As an advocate for sexual violence prevention, I often feel bogged down from the pain of stories I hear from survivors of sexual violence, as well as resentment for the seeming indifference from those who have not been directly affected by this particular anguish. Recently, a teammate lambasted me, “You make it seem as if we are all responsible for this.” In fact, I do believe we are all responsible for preventing sexual violence. MLK taught me, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” He preached that we are all negatively affected by individual, relational, and institutional oppression, even if some or all our identities are privileged in that system.

In a climate where fear and hate feel pervasive, I try to follow MLK’s lead; knowing I’ll fall short, but doing to let go of my own resentment, fear, and hatred to see the humanity in everyone while championing an equitable, safe, and inclusive world.

MOUSHAUMI ROBINSON

There are two quotes from Dr. King that I have grown up holding on to:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I have always been inspired that no matter who believed in me or what I was trying to do to help the world be better, to never stop trying. This taught me that I did not have to be perfect, I just had to be purposed. As long as I was living in purpose, and willing to care about others and advocate for those who could not, my life would have its fullest value.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

This taught me that any and everyone is capable of loving, as long as those of us who love are willing to show them. I am a person who cares about the inner most parts of a person, and I strongly believe we were all created in love, and to love, sometimes live experiences can make us lose our way. this quote by Dr. King reminds me that loving others is always a way to show any person the light of love along their own path, and transform their heart.

ROSE MONDAY

We are not born knowing racism. I grew up in in the 60’s in Southern California in a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles County. Racism was something I heard by adults; I grew up hearing racist comments and as a small child was disturbed with what I heard and vowed at a young age that I would not be that way. I admire MLK’s strength, passion and conviction to stand up for equality. I admire his faith in humanity despite all the adversity he experienced, and his faith in Christianity. Lastly, I am moved by his peaceful and poetic style to create a better world.

Martin Luther King and Mrs. Du Bois Peck, only grandaughter of W.E.B. Du Bois, at the Freedomways reception after the Du Bois Centennial Tribute at Carnegie Hall, February 23, 1968. Photo: Builder Levy

Join The Conversation

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>