If you’re anything like me, Dr. King’s legacy leaves you very much empowered and yet, feeling a little awkward. As much as his words and actions have been cherished and praised throughout the years, I’m always left wondering, but what can I do?
As inspired as I am, protesting isn’t really my thing. I’m too quiet, too shy, and sad to say, much too worried about my own self-preservation. But injustice of any kind bothers me, hate makes my blood boil, and despite my quiet nature, I’m an activist at heart. But after 27 years of wrestling with society’s expectations, I’ve come to realize the many ways I can keep Dr. King’s legacy alive in my everyday life. Although I may never make the news, face danger, or display the level of courage Dr. King did, my motive is the same: to spread love, eradicate hate, and live peaceably with all God’s children.
There’s no special formula or particular order. Instead, they are a string of simple, common everyday actions for those of us who love Dr. King and wish to see his dream realized in today’s world.
1. Befriend someone different than you.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Just find one person that’s different than you and reach out to them like you would your best friend. Ask them about their family, their hobbies, their culture, and what they like to do for fun. Invite them to one of your social events. Get to know them. Slowly. Honestly. Authentically, seeking nothing in return except to know them and love them. Encourage others to do the same. This person isn’t hard to find. She might the woman you’ve seen in the grocery store a thousand times. Or another mother at your child’s day care. Or that lady in the gym you see every now and then. Start small but be intentional. This is how love grows.
2. Pay attention to social issues, find one that troubles you, and work to eliminate it.
Don’t ignore the issues of today’s world that make you uncomfortable. Let them trouble you. Let your soul be bothered by the weight of injustice. Embrace sympathy. But even more so than that, be moved to action. Volunteer. Feed the homeless. Pray for refugees. Awareness breeds action and action results in change.
3. Serve others.
Whether we care to admit it or not, we are selfish people. We love preserving our name, our brand, our clothes, our shoes, and our plans. But life is not about us; it’s about serving others. Whether you choose to share your time, money, passion and/or talents, make the decision to serve others. Even a simple choice to serve once a week or once a month makes a difference.
Dr. King’s legacy leaves me feeling very much empowered and yet I’m always left wondering, but what can I do?
4. Lead by example.
Though far from perfect, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led by example. He didn’t tell others to march while he stayed home. He marched with them, showing others the beauty of nonviolent protests. We can do the same. At home. At school. At work. At the park. In the city. In the suburb. Wherever you are, there is an opportunity to follow the crowd or lead by example. Lead. Let your principles guide you. Even when they are unpopular. Even when the road seems long, tough, and dreary. Even if persecuted. Lead by example. As Dr. King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”
5. Have faith.
Anyone familiar with Dr. King’s legacy knows he had many days filled with doubt. He was hopeful, but unsure, prayerful and yet sometimes discouraged. This too is our story—no matter the battles we face. Dr. King reminds us by his life and his words, “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” So don’t you dare give up. Believe just as much when it’s hard as you do when it’s easy. The persistent beauty of our faith is our greatest legacy.
So as the world celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don’t count yourself out. You are part of his legacy whether or not you share his ethnicity or race because his legacy is one of peace, of passion, of service, and of faith. Though Dr. King’s life was marked by hard times, discouragement, and moments of defeat, it was ultimately a life full of grit and grace and that is a legacy we should all aspire to keep.
In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, let’s “…decide to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear.”
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