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Weekly Wisdom 1-17-2017

Weekly Wisdom

By Stephen Sarchet

I find it odd to be writing a column called Weekly Wisdom because I don’t believe by any stretch of the imagination to be any wiser that anyone else nor to have answers of any importance. With that in mind, please accept my musings with a grain of salt for in the end, that’s all they really are!

This week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and enjoyed a long weekend in recognition of one of America’s historical figures. In the evening of the holiday, I found myself wondering about him, which in turn got me to thinking about how knowing someone makes them more real to me, which in turn got me thinking that I don’t really know much about Dr. King. That circular thought rolled itself around my mind through a restless night and was my first thought on waking. I needed to know more about the man so that I could “know” the person he was rather than the name on a calendar.

I learned that he was born Michael King Jr. in Montgomery Alabama in 1929. His father, Michael King Sr., changed his name to Martin Luther King after a trip to Germany in 1931 as an homage to the theologian Martin Luther. Michael Jr. became Martin Luther Jr. when he was two years old. I learned that Martin Luther King Jr. entered Morehouse College when he was only 15 years old and he wasn’t originally interested in pursuing the ministry like his father until the college president, Dr. Benjamin Ray, influenced him to pursue it. He entered Boston University to get his graduate degree, and after completing his doctorate in systematic theology, and became a pastor like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. Boston U is also where he met Coretta who was studying music and singing. I like the thought that these two people, he from Georgia and she from Alabama, should meet in a place so far from either of their homes and become a family. It is a personal story that is similar to my own story of meeting the girl who would become my wife.

He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was elected its president in 1957, a position he would hold until his death in 1968. After being arrested for helping organize a voter registration movement in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963, he wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail, which I had never read before this week. In reading his words I found I admired the man who wrote them for his conviction in his ideals, not just for himself, but for all of us. I admired his personal courage in living up to his own beliefs. I recalled the images of the police attacking protestors with dogs and firehoses as the backdrop of his words, I believed him when he said “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”, and was moved by his description of having to explain to his six year old daughter why she can’t go to an amusement park she sees advertised on TV and the knowledge of the impact it will have on her, of seeing the “ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky”. I could see that he found himself caught in the cross roads of change. His personal belief in peaceful means for change stood at odds with the rising tide of proponents of change by any means necessary. I could feel his frustration with those he hoped would add their own voices and support, but who remained silent.

So I come back to where I started. I know better than to pretend I can relate to the struggle, but in knowing more about the person he was, he becomes personal for me, more human, which I think is the same for any of us.   

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