Why Martin Luther King Jr. Was Just an Ordinary Guy (and Why That’s Extraordinary)

This weekend, the newspapers and internet will be full of articles about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his impact on civil rights—so I’m not going to talk about his grand achievements because you can read about those elsewhere.

Instead, I’d like to quickly explore why MLK is one of the greatest social justice and human rights advocates of our time.

Is it because he used non-violent methods to protest racism and segregation? Is it because he often sprinkled Bible verses throughout his speeches? Or is it because he gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on my birthday? No, no, and no.

My favorite thing about MLK is that he was just a normal guy. He wasn’t perfect, and he showed us that we don’t have to be perfect to change the world either.

MLK grew up in an average family with a strict minister father and gentle mother. He did well in school—he skipped two grades in high school and was student body president and valedictorian in his seminary. Still, this biography calls him a “popular student… but an unmotivated student” during his first two years at Morehouse College. Though he was a minister’s son he often questioned his faith and his desire to follow his father’s footsteps into the seminary.

Martin and family at Morehouse College, where one biography calls him a “popular student… but an unmotivated student” during his first two years.
Martin and family at Morehouse College, where one biography calls him a “popular student… but an unmotivated student” during his first two years.

These are qualities that plague average human beings—who among us hasn’t questioned our faith or come down with a bad case of “senioritis”? But Dr. King never saw these as barriers; instead, he knew that he was ordinary but that this did not limit him to ordinary actions. His upbringing, which was not free from racism, created his passion for speaking out against a corrupt system—a passion that, as we all know, eventually engulfed the entire country and brought about justice.

If he can do all that, then why can’t I?

In the early days of BSB we faced many challenges, and there were times when I didn’t believe that a group of young adults could run an organization or change how anyone thinks about social justice issues. I often thought about MLK in those early days and how, like me, he was just a normal person with his share of problems; yet he understood that we can feed and share our inherent talents and passions in a way that makes the world a better place. We hope that you will too.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”  –Martin Luther King, Jr.

-Scott Hines

Scott Hines is a Director for Blood, Sweat and Berries.

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