Yesterday was Martin Luther King day in this country, where we remember the life and achievements of that great civil rights leader. At one point a young lady, a teenager, was asked what she thought of Doctor King and she said she really didn't know who he was or what he did. We sometimes for get that he died in 1968, the victim of a disgruntled assassin. That was 43 years ago. Hard to believe, isn't it?
But how could this young girl NOT know Martin Luther King?
Well, it dawns on me when I reflect that history is only rarely made, accepted or understood by youth. Today's youth don't have any more expectations put on them than to be 'unique', to "hang out" with their friends and pass school *somehow.* We, as a society, simply don't imbue them with a greater sense of duty and purpose. It's no wonder then, that those who sacrificed, fought and died for the rights of others are not held in high esteem. It isn't just MLK, either. Ask a young person if they've heard of people like Frederick Douglas, Mahatma Ghandi or Hubert Humphrey sometime....
Having traveled the globe, widely, I remain convinced that America's singular experiment in the "Rule of the People" is a landmark moment in time.
Given this, and maybe in spite of it, we tend to have a rather centric view of events in this country. We tend to think that the American experience is particularly noteworthy.
Well, we are not perfect; we don't always remember that we didn't get here by magic. Many sacrifices, often of blood and life, were part of our makeup. This is seen in our own civil rights movement, the culmination of two centuries of neglect for the displaced Africans that became a part of our nations people. Robbed of their homes and dignity, they were brought here unwillingly to serve the economic needs of a nation - then left to languish as second class citizens.
But, Alan Keyes, one of my favorite political activists said it best... "We may have gotten here on different ships - but were ALL rowing the same boat, now."
My point is that the history of human rights and, specifically, that of self-sacrifice for those down trodden, wasn't written in this country alone. There have been many great and wondrous things done to succor those in need - all over the world, in all times....
But in all cases, those offering the aid were giving themselves over to a greater power. They forgot themselves so as to aid their fellow man.
So I am left to wonder if we are teaching the next generation that such sacrifice is the greatest form of heroism? It isn't that Dr. King was black; some will make that assumption. It is that he died caring about a nation and it's people - that they might come together, at last, to form a greater whole. He, in fact died, focused upon that.
So, are we impressing THAT upon today's youth? Are we telling them that their highest purpose is not to live for themselves, nor to pile up riches or appear in the newest viral YouTube video? But, rather, that it is to GO and DO something worthwhile, to ACT in ways that make a difference for the betterment of all?
"I am of mixed heritage and so is my husband. But I love the fact that I am of one race, the human race." - Lynn Higgenbotham Beasley