Some great writers can sit down at a desk and conjure up an inspirational phrase or two. If they’re really good and, maybe even a bit lucky, they manage to come up with enough great lines to pull together a book or two or an interesting speech. And then some great thinkers like Martin Luther King Jr. come along, spend a lifetime in the public eye, turning out ideas that help change the world. King died much too young, assassinated when he was just 39, but he left behind a multitude of work. I’ve been going back and reading some of his speeches.
Scholars often point to his speech at Cornell College in Iowa in October 1963 where he explained how fear leads to racism. “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
Many others focus on his often quoted “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, where he gave his eloquent appeal to end economic and employment inequalities, saying, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
Still others often take note of his “Our God is Marching On” speech in 1965 when he marched with 25,000 protesters from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to fight for African American voting rights. You could even focus on some of his writings. His letters to various officials and his call for equal rights.
You could read all of those and more, but today, I’m struck by a speech King gave at the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City in 1962: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
The more I examine and study the line, the more I find it touches on my faith, my relationship with God, and how I try to live my life. I rarely want change to happen, and if it’s inevitable, I want to control the time and the place. I want to play God. I want to be the man in control of the lever. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.
Instead, I have to look ahead. I have to stay positive and push forward. Rev. King rightfully pointed out that we bring about change together. I can see only the next step, but one step after another, after another and I eventually make it to the top of the staircase. Life is what we make of it — having faith and trust, fighting for equality and civil rights, and being willing to take the first step.
Thank you Rev. King.