"Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater Nation of your country, and a finer world to live in." ~MLK
I had the honor of visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2012. I was taken aback by how emotional the experience was for me. As I walked with my mother through the "Mountain of Despair" to the "Stone of Hope," a reference to a line from Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, I felt the weight of the civil rights struggle heavy in the air. I watched my mother and others of her generation, the last generation to experience segregation, as they walked through the memorial. I could only imagine what they were thinking how they were feeling- how far we have come, yet how far we still have to go.
In a crescent shape surrounding the "Mountain of Despair" is an inscription wall that includes fourteen quotes from many of Dr. King's speeches and sermons. I read them all and was drawn to one in particular, "Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater Nation of your country, and a finer world to live in." This one resonated with me. I stared at the inscription and let the words sink in. It felt like it was more than a quote. It felt like it was a call to service, a gentle reminder that even in 2012 others still need a voice fighting on their behalf.
To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I took the time to read Dr. King's entire Address at the Youth March for Integrated School on 18 April 1959. His speech reminded me that we, the next generation and the faces of the future, have a responsibility to dedicate a portion of our lives to fighting for civil rights and human rights. Making that commitment is no easy task, but I believe making little changes daily like speaking out against hatred, accepting others who look or act differently, and leading with love will ultimately make our world a better place.
Address at the Youth March for Integrated Schools on 18 April 1959
I stand here and look out upon the thousands of Negro faces, and the thousands of white faces, intermingled like the waters of a river, I see only one face the face of the future.
Yes, as I gaze upon this great historic assembly, this unprecedented gathering of young people, I cannot help thinking-that a hundred years from now the historians will be calling this not the "beat" generation, but the generation of integration.
The fact that thousands of you came here to Washington and that thousands more signed your petition proves that this generation will not take "No" for an answer-will not take double talk for an answer-will not take gradualism for an answer. It proves that the only answer you will settle for is-total desegregation and total equality-now.
I know of no words eloquent enough to express the deep meaning, the great power, and the unconquerable spirit back of this inspiringly original, uniquely American march of young people. Nothing like it has ever happened in the history of our Nation. Nothing, that is, except the last youth march. What this march demonstrates to me, above all else, is that you young people, through your own experience, have somehow discovered the central fact of American life-that the extension of democracy for all Americans depends upon complete integration of Negro Americans.
By coming here you have shown yourselves to be highly alert, highly responsible young citizens. And very soon the area of your responsibility will increase, for you will begin to exercise your greatest privilege as an American-the right to vote. Of course, you will have no difficulty exercising this privilege-if you are white.
But I wonder if you can understand what it feels like to be a Negro, living in the South, where, by attempting to exercise this right, you may be taking your life in your hands.
The denial of the vote not only deprives the Negro of his constitutional rights but what is even worse-it degrades him as a human being. And yet, even this degradation, which is only one of many humiliations of everyday life, is losing its ability to degrade. For the southern Negro is learning to transform his degradation into resistance. Nonviolent resistance. And by so doing he is not only achieving his dignity as a human being, he is helping to advance democracy in the South. This is why my colleagues and I in the Southern Leadership Conference are giving our major attention to the campaign to increase the registration of Negro voters in the South to 3 million. Do you realize what would happen in this country if we were to gain 3 million southern Negro votes? We could change the composition of Congress. We could have a Congress far more responsive to the voters' will. We could have all schools integrated-north and south. A new era would open to all Americans. Thus, the Negro, in his struggle to secure his own rights is destined to enlarge democracy for all people, in both a political and a social sense.
Indeed in your great movement to organize a march for integrated schools you have actually accomplished much more. You have awakened on hundreds of campuses throughout the land a new spirit of social inquiry to the benefit of all Americans.
This is really a noble cause. As June approaches, with its graduation ceremonies and speeches, a thought suggests itself. You will hear much about careers, security, and prosperity. I will leave the discussion of such matters to your deans, your principals, and your valedictorians. But I do have a graduation thought to pass along to you. Whatever career you may choose for yourself-doctor, lawyer, teacher-let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life.
It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater Nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.