A Tribute To Martin Luther King Jr. From My Son

When I first started blogging I had this MLK quote at the top of my blog:

“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”

I loved that quote because it defined to me what living a life dedicated to making the world a better place means. It’s about believing in what is right, and willing to put yourself out there to make it happen.

Martin Luther King Jr. did die for something. His words told us that he knew it was a possibility. He knew the risks he was taking. But he stood strong anyway. How many of us are that brave?

My middle son is a Senior in high school. The following is one of the college essays he submitted. Naturally, it touched my heart. We can pass on to our children love or hate. It’s up to us. Pass on love, and you will make this world a better place, even long after you’ve gone.

I have admired many people who have undoubtedly inspired me, and taught me countless lessons that have made me into the person that I am this day. There is one man who has impacted my life in ways that still amaze me. This man is Martin Luther King Jr. Though it might sound bizarre coming from a white boy born in Texas 24 years after his death, his life has impacted mine through my mother.

My mother grew up in Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights movement and her father, my grandfather, was a State Senator. Having parents so heavily involved in politics, she had always told me she felt she had a front row seat for that time period. She was part of the first generation of white children to go to an integrated elementary school. She also graduated from a formerly all black high school. When she was 13 years old her father ran the court house as Circuit Clerk, and she handed out voter registration forms to blacks for the first time at the court house in Jackson.

There is a lot more to her story. A story that has found its way into the way I live my life, and more importantly, how I treat others. My mother was determined that her children would learn the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr., and would never judge someone by the color of their skin. She put me and my siblings into a diverse Catholic school downtown rather than the mostly white suburban one closer to our home. She bought my sister Barbies of different colors. Using racial slang and slurs of any kind were most certainly not allowed. Woe to the friend who accidentally did in front of her.

Martin Luther King Jr. was more than just a hero during black history month at school. My mom made him seem real to us, instead of just a distant figure from the past. We not only read his “I Have a Dream” speech, but his letter from a Birmingham jail, and many other great speeches that he gave in his lifetime. She wanted to make sure that we understood that this was a mission of faith for him. Many who write his history don’t focus on that, but she wanted to see that treating people fairly was a part of our faith, as it was his.

My best friend for the last 10 years is Jahaun, who is black. I have other black friends, and my brothers and sister also have many friends of color. Even when we were little, our friendships were not based on any race or color of the skin. One day my sister remarked that it seemed that we had a lot of black friends compared to other white kids. My mom said that children sense when someone is not judging them, and this always comforted me. Knowing that my friends and I understood each other past the stereotypes was an awesome feeling. I grew up with that feeling, and I cannot imagine growing up these past ten years without Jahaun. His friendship alone has gotten me through so much. It occurred to me that if not for the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr., I might have judged Jahaun based on his skin color. I might have had preconceived notions that would have kept me from his friendship.

A true friend is a rare and incredible gift. It bothers me that people are still so racist and hateful against people that could potentially be their very own friend. Jahaun’s impact on my life is indescribable. I know if I had not learned the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr., I might have never had Jahaun in my life.

So, 42 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, his words and wisdom still resonate. His lessons still reach out to us, and better us as human beings. They make us understand that color is not who we are, but what is in the heart tells us who a person really is.

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