At our town’s annual community celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, I listened to our mayor, our congressman, our school super, three students, a rabbi and a pastor speak. It is an uplifting and wonderful event, especially the voices of the beautiful student singers and gospel performers. This celebration is a great reminder of the work and courage of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of the course of justice for all in our United States.
But back to the speakers. While all their intentions were noble, those who read their notes and paraphrased the ideas of non-violent protest and social justice – did not move me. Those who used the day to frame their political messages – did not move me. Those who summarized King’s life and struggle and courage, appealed to me, but – did not move me. The pastor who simply read the letter Martin Luther King wrote from a Birmingham jail – moved me to tears. This heartbreaking letter written in 1963 from a small jail cell (he used toilet paper to pen his words) is so filled with integrity, intelligence, clarity, and passion, that his words whispered in my ear and entered my heart. The pastor read this fiery letter with intensity, outrage and connection. He gave us the real Martin Luther King Jr. and a reminder that his legacy, his voice, is very much alive.
So when we speak to honor others – bring a powerful story of the effect of that person on your life, or bring their words to life; nothing else will do them (or you) justice.
Here is a clip of the letter recorded on YouTube.