Monday, January 20, 2014

Perseverance: Martin Luther King's Legacy

Today we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the driving force behind the American Civil Rights
King's statue, located midway
between the Jefferson and
Lincoln Memorials, gazes at
the Memorial to Jefferson, the
drafter of the Declaration of
Independence. (Photo by
Charles Ray)
Movement. King was a man who dedicated his life to (and gave his life for) the principle that everyone should be entitled to a chance at the American dream.

King’s detractors will point out that he was flawed. I won’t argue that. Like all mortals, MLK, as he was known to his close associates, had his weaknesses. But, his strengths far outweighed those few flaws.
One of his character traits which I particularly admire was that of perseverance. His ability to, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “And so hold on when there is nothing in you, Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

As an African-American who came of age before and during the Civil Rights Movement, and who has experienced firsthand ‘Whites Only’ signs, and the ‘separate but equal’ policy that was separate, but most definitely not equal, I can appreciate the ability to keep your head up and your feet moving forward, when everything around you makes it easier to turn and walk away. The ability to see light when walking through the valley of shadows – King had it in abundant supply.

I can also appreciate this trait on a more mundane level. As a freelance writer for decades, I have endured thousands of rejections, countless comments from friends and family about ‘writing’ being something you’re incapable of doing, and besides it’s not a real grownup job. I’ve put up with the occasional critic who disliked my use of semicolons, or who felt that my main character should have been killed off in the first chapter. Despite this, I have persisted in following my dream. I AM a writer. I’m not on any best seller lists, and I don’t have an agent waiting to answer my phone calls. Nor do I have publishers falling over each other to bid on my next book. I do have a few books that a few readers have found entertaining. I do enjoy reaching the last word of the last sentence of each book or article I write – so I can move on to the next one.

What does this have to do with celebrating Dr. King’s day? Probably nothing – or perhaps everything. In all that we do, following Martin Luther King’s example of keeping your eye on your goal and your feet on the path is maybe one of the most important things we can do.