As we pass through Martin Luther King Jr. day today, it’s fitting to think through the lessons that this great man offers us. For me personally, his philosophies and tenacity had a profound influence on my sense of social justice and social action.
When I was an AmeriCorps member, I remember we always considered MLK day a day on, rather than a day off. We spent this day serving our community, reflecting on the lessons that MLK had for us, and pondering how we could apply his message to our own lives.
Martin Luther King’s message for us is as simple as it is beautiful. And I’ve always seen it boil down to ten main philosophies that he lived out through every speech, every march, and every revolution he sparked. Let’s take a look at those now, and start thinking about how we can spend MLK as a day on. A day to weave the beauty of this man’s life into our own.
Here is what MLK believed:
1) He believed everyone could start doing something right now to change the world. This mantra was the fiber of his being – it was the mojo that caused 1 million people to march on Washington and demand justice, it was the thread that wove together a movement that crisscrossed a nation, and it was this belief that made MLK fearless in the face of injustice.
2) He wasn’t afraid to cry. Or to get upset, or to yell when he knew something was wrong. Social change is uncomfortable, it’s emotional, and often, the only way we can jostle others into action is to express the emotions that fit the situation.
3) He would admit when he was wrong. MLK was gracious and humble. He sought forgiveness as much as he asked perpetuators of injustice to seek redemption.
4) He challenged everyone to join the movement. Indifference is what fuels injustice. MLK knew this, so he would unabashedly call people out from the sidelines and spur them to action.
5) He was not a tool for politicians. His philosophy was the philosophy of justice. He was not beholden to any Democrat, Republican, Tea Partier, Liberal, Greener, or Libertarian. Social justice is not about political points - Social Justice is about TRUTH.
6) He didn’t shy from tough conversations. Not because he had all the answers, but because he knew he had to stimulate discussion on social justice to spark social change.
7) He knew everyone has a cause they must dedicate themselves to. MLK once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” You have a social cause that you are passionately committed to. You may not know what that is yet, but bottom line, there is something that lights your fire – and sparks social change. MLK’s mission was and is to help you find that cause and devote yourself to it.
8) He was going to change business as usual. People had gotten comfortable, and comfort is a necessary ingredient for social injustice. MLK made people uncomfortable, but he did it with such grace and kindness that they couldn’t help but change the way things had been.
9) He knew anyone could be that ‘one person’. The story of social change is often the story of one person who saw an injustice and refused to accept it. This one person taking action, created a chain reaction of people getting involved and refusing to accept the status quo. The hallmark of MLK’s life was that he empowered thousands of change agents around the world because he made everyone he spoke to feel that they could create change.
10) He knew he was destined to shift the course of humanity. Watch any MLK speech and you will see a man who knew he was living out a divine purpose. It was this belief that drove him forward as he witnessed peaceful marchers being attacked and churches being bombed. It was this belief that fueled his prophetic Mountaintop Speech and the Million Man March. And it was this belief that he ultimately gave his life for.
As I reflect on MLK’s philosophies, I’m uncomfortable, but I think MLK would have it that way. Social change has never been started by a group of people who were comfortable with the status quo, so let’s get uncomfortable today, let’s get out, let’s talk about injustice, how we can spark change, and how we can be the kind of change agents that MLK always knew we could be.
Please comment below: How will you live out MLK’s philosophies today?