A week and a day ago, I had the most surprising and empowering honor of attending President Obama’s Farewell Address. It all happened so quickly, and to be honest, I’m still reeling and processing it all. It’s one thing to hear him speak on television or the radio. It’s an entirely different experience to be in his presence. The energy in that room, as large and overwhelming as it was, was palpable, positive, and moving. Between the President’s heartfelt greeting and emotional thank yous to First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, there were plenty of shouts from the audience begging the POTUS for another term. “FOUR MORE YEARS! FOUR MORE YEARS!” Each sentiment growing louder than the last.
There was a sense of urgency among the crowd. We needed him to carry us through what feels like a darker and more dangerous time than my generation and I had ever faced before. To our call, the POTUS responded, “I can’t do that.” It’s true, eight years is enough, and what’s even truer is that he can’t be our leader forever, no one can. We keep searching and waiting for someone to step up and be the leader we need. Surprise! Tag, we’re it. And the POTUS agrees. He used his platform, his farewell address, to encourage us to pick up the torch and keep moving, keep fighting, keep organizing. His infinite hope in us, in America, in mankind probably feels a little unbearable and even unrealistic at times, but I believe it is this same unwavering hopefulness that can and will carry us through any obstacle we face. And it is this same hopefulness that was and still is reflected in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today we honor the life and legacy of a man who was a part of a great movement, a movement that is as current and critical now as it was then, nearly 50 years after his death. MLK is now. If you’re living in the States, most of you are probably relaxing at home and enjoying your day off, but I just want to remind you that this day and every day is a day on. There are no breaks when fighting for what’s right. Sure, it may get hard and you may feel weary and hopeless, but I encourage you to consider the POTUS’ Farewell Address and his audacity of hope. Think about Katherine G. Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, the three Black female STEM pioneers whose narratives are highlighted in the newly released and highly popular film Hidden Figures. Think about people like women’s rights and suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, abolitionist Charles Sumner, the Little Rock Nine, Ruby Bridges, NAACP founder W.E.B DuBois, activist Mohandnas Ghandi, holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, gay rights activist Harvey Milk, girls education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and so many other individuals (including those who will forever be nameless) who dared to give their time, energy, and lives to fight for people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Now, your fight doesn’t have to be grand, but you just have to fight for something. Like civil rights activist Malcolm X once said, “a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” To help get you started in your quest for positive change, I’ve accumulated a few of my favorite MLK quotes. After reading all of them, I hope you’ll walk away empowered to do the following:
- Be a public servant and find a cause that stirs you, moves you, and fires you up.
- Do what you can to promote love, justice, and peace. Do what you can to positively affect change for everyone, not just some.
- Remain hopeful and steadfast, especially in the face of overwhelming adversity and injustice.
Remember, you are not the first ones to face obstacles, and you won’t be the last. Many of you stand on the soldiers of great leaders who stood for something beautiful and powerful: love. Call on them for guidance and strength. It is within you. Now is the time to walk into your purpose. Don’t delay. You are the one you’ve been waiting for. Rise.
- “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
- “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?'”
- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
- “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
- “The time is always right to do what is right.”
- “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
- “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
- “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 ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
- “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
- “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
- “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
- “It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it.”
- “There is nothing more majestic than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity.”
- “Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace, but let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love.”
- “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”