Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Transformative Leader

By Regina Marie Williams, Ten Thousand Things Board and Artist Core Member

Martin Luther King’s Message of PEACE still Resonates!

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior MLK is the only Federal Holiday that is also designated as a day of service. A “day on, not a day off.” And sadly there is still a lot of work to be done. We are still battling war both far off and at home: fair wages, people unhoused, food insecurities, police brutality, racial and social inequality and voter suppression. PEACE is often hard to find. Welcome to the new year. An Election year.

I celebrate MLK Day not just because it’s a Federal holiday but because his dream includes me. Dr. King’s dream includes all of us. As King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

The past few years I have been in many discussions with friends, colleagues and family about leadership, the lack of leadership, the question of who are our leaders today, and what we need in a leader. Dr. King, expanding on the ideas of Josiah Gilbert Holland, answers the leadership query in his speech to his Fraternity brothers August 11, 1956. And it is as fitting today.

“Finally, in order to do this job we have got to have more dedicated, consecrated, intelligent and sincere leadership. This is a tense period through which we are passing this period of transition and there is a need all over the nation for leaders to carry on. Leaders who can somehow sympathize with and calm us and at the same time have a positive quality. We have got to have leaders of this sort who will stand by courageously and yet not run off with emotion. We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the pressing urgencies of the great cause of freedom. God give us leaders. A time like this demands great leaders. Leaders whom the fog of life cannot chill, men whom the lust of office cannot buy. Leaders who have honor, leaders who will not lie.”

I look at images of the leader Dr. King— a compelling man of ideas, ideals, and an extraordinary master orator. There are some beautiful solo images. But there are so many other photos with King surrounded, standing shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart with folks from all walks of life, buoying him up: civil rights organizers, clergy, union organizers, common folk, artists. Yes, artists; Joan Baez, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, Harry Bellafonte and many
more. All doing their part to make the world a better place.

One of TTT’s core values is this “We actively work to eliminate barriers to participation and cultivate equitable practices. Whether an audience member, artist, staff, or volunteer, each person’s unique perspective is necessary to the work.” This is an organization practicing leadership and activism.

Activism or leadership doesn’t have to be loud. And it doesn’t always look the same. And anyone can do it. The excerpt below is Dr. King’s words amplifying the poem “Whatever You Are” by Douglas Malloch

“Whatever you are doing consider it as something having cosmic significance, as it is a part of the uplifting of humanity. No matter what it is, no matter how small you think it is, do it right. As someone said, do it so well that the living, dead, or the unborn could do it no better. If your son grows up to be a street cleaner, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry, sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well”. If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill be a shrub on the side, but be the best shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree, if you can’t be a highway be a trail, if you can’t be the sun be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are (as) we confront the issues of today and prepare to live in this new age.”

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.”

If you’d like to find a way to show some love through service to others or by attending an event, review this list. However, if for 364 days of the year you are battling injustice and oppression I think it is ok to show yourself some love and consider taking this one day off to recharge.

Happy MLK DAY!

Regina Marie Williams, Ten Thousand Things Board and Artist Core Member
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What will you do to advance Dr. King’s Dream?

If you’d like to find a way to show some love through service to others or by attending an event, view this list.