“Our hope for the future is ordained by the giants who have walked among us!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
I was 8 years old when it happened; I would turn 9 just a few days later.
They say that young people today form impressions from the news as early as the age of 2. Back on April 4, 1968, we didn’t have much in the way of news media – 3 television stations, a few radio stations, and a newspaper.
But I vividly remember waking up on the morning of April 9 and hearing the news of the assassination of Martin Luther King. I knew that I had just done a small project – whatever it is that an 8-year-old might do – about him a few months prior. I remember riding my bike to school with my friends, talking to them, and wondering what it all meant – that remains forever seared in my memory. I was confused by the fact they didn’t seem to know about it or didn’t seem to care. I remember that scene repeating itself just a few months later when Robert F. Kennedy Jr suffered the same fate.
You have to understand the context of the world I grew up in – if the phrase ‘lily-white‘ were to be defined, I was living within it. Take a look at my Grade 3 photo – there is absolutely no diversity in the image. I lived in a ridiculously sheltered environment, never really exposed to the toxicity of our world, except through the limited news media that was accessible to a young mind.
Not much had changed by the time I reached Grade 6; not much would change for some years to come.
And yet, these pivotal moments in history helped to shape my beliefs and attitudes today. Just the year before, the Detroit riots were in the news, and the firefighters from our cottage community in Canada were brought in help to deal with the situation. Being but 7 years old, I vividly remember this time.
Sometime later, I began to visit the local library, discovering Time and Newsweek. I began voraciously reading, trying to comprehend the world around me. These seminal years, and the insight I was exposed to, helped to shape my liberal attitude, my caring for my fellow human, and my belief that without a foundation of dignity and respect in our soul, we are nothing.
A few years back, I was watching a PBS show about the civil rights era, and a particular section about Martin Luther King caught my attention. After his assassination, one of his counterparts observed, “he was just an ordinary person, trying to do extraordinary things.”
I remain pretty confused about today’s political environment, where hatred, race, and terror once again rule the domestic agenda. I fear that the many gains of MLK are being systematically dismantled and that the ugliness of our times is not recoverable. And then, I find that the sentiment found in the quote itself provides extraordinary guidance. We are all but ordinary people — but we all have a chance to do extraordinary things. To stand for our beliefs, to speak up and speak out. To call out evil and hate when we see it, and to encourage those who are subjected to it to have hope for their future.
Why live a life that is marginal, when you have the chance each and every moment to try to do something great? Why take small steps when giant leaps are always within your reach? Why limit your thinking to the small ideas when it’s the big concepts that might win the day?
Take some inspiration from the giants who have walked before you. Today, on Martin Luther King Day, reinforce your belief in the future by remembering that going forward “This needs to change!”
Then do what you can in your own small way to continue to help it to change.