Storytelling is a powerful medium for the exchange of ideas. While a great story can still stand out in print, or when retold by someone else, the most compelling stories are the ones told as a firsthand experience. I recently found this out for myself when I attended an event on Monday celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This year, on what would have been Dr. King’s 85th birthday, cities across the country held parades and other special events to honor the fallen civil rights leader. In Dallas, I had the honor of attending a symposium which featured a panel of local and nationally known authors, teachers and activists. The symposium brought to my attention the fact that 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and brought attention to the many injustices that were facing people of color at that time.
One of the panelists, Reverend Peter Johnson, made many thought-provoking comments that I’m still dissecting many days later. A man in his 70s now, Reverend Johnson grew up alongside Dr. King, served on his staff, and was there that day in the crowd listening to that legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
I’ve been told many times that I have an old soul, which may explain why I enjoy my work with senior living communities. My old soul is what drew my attention to Reverend Johnson. No one else on that panel could say that they had met Dr. King. No one else on that panel could say that they had been arrested for merely drinking out of the wrong water fountain. While the four others on that panel were brilliant people who had done the research and had the knowledge to speak well on the ideals of Dr. King, no one but Reverend Johnson had experienced firsthand the very things Dr. King spoke so passionately about.
There was one point Reverend Johnson made that I felt was exceptional – that we need to remember Dr. King as the man that he was, not just the legend. Through the many iconic photos and films of Dr. King’s powerful speeches, our society has elevated his work to a heroic status, making what he did seem beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Of course, what Dr. King did was courageous and he was nothing short of heroic, but we need to remember that he was a human being just like the rest of us. We too can bring awareness to the many injustices that still face our nation today, which is exactly what Dr. King was doing right up until his assassination. King was just like the men and women we meet today who are using their talents to inspire, help and uplift others.
Whether it is race, age, gender or income, there are still inequalities being faced by millions of people in our own collective backyard – many of the same inequalities that Dr. King spoke of 50 years ago. While it would be foolish to say that not much has changed since the days of the Civil Rights Movement, we would be fools to think that our work is over.