As we pause to reflect on the awesome legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, and the work that remains to us, I find myself going back to one of the reverend’s less well-known speeches. Most of us have read or watched or even studied his “I Have A Dream” speech, and it is fantastic and inspirational, and rhetorically brilliant. But I find Mr. King’s speech, given to an assembly of junior high school students six months before his assassination, the one that helps me most in looking forward and thinking about where I want to go, and how.
In this speech, Mr. King asks his audience, and all of us the simple question, “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” He asks us to reflect on our plan for our lives, and gives us some pointers to begin building our blueprint. And even though I’m closer to forty than to fourteen, I think these pointers are just as valid and valuable as they are to a young person setting out to build their adult life.
Mr. King makes two simple but important points to begin with. He says:
“Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness…”
“Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor.“
(He expands on both points, and I highly recommend you watch the video or read the full (short) transcript linked up below!)
This year is going to be a difficult one. So much of the work that has been achieved in the previous decades seems to be coming unraveled. There’s nothing new about this. It’s the story of history, even if we seem to have somehow hit the fast forward button on things. What’s new is that it’s happening to us this time, and not our parents, our grandparents, or seven-times-over ancestor. And that means it falls to us stand up, to speak out, and to work for ourselves, for those around us, for all of humanity. It’s our responsibility, and each of us must shoulder it.
But here’s what I love about Mr. King’s speech: he asks us to find what we will do with our lives, and then set out to excel in it, with full faith in ourselves. Not all of us can take to the streets in protest, however much we may wish we could. Not all of us can speak coherently and thoughtfully on TV, pushing viewers to question their prejudices and rethink their stances. But we all have something that is our calling, if you will. Something that is what we have chosen to do with our lives. And those skills, those abilities, can uphold us, can be used to make us allies to communities that are coming under fire.
For me, that calling is writing. And while I’ve made various resolutions regarding what I want to do with my writing this year, I’m also committing to write the stories I have in me that most need to be told right now. I am committing to use my skills as a storyteller and wordsmith to speak truth to power, to build empathy and compassion, to help us find the humanity in each other and treat each other with dignity. To recognize the value and “somebodiness” of every single person around us. And to do my best by my writing–to endeavor for excellence, for the sake of the stories I have to tell, and the readers who will pick them up.
So here is my challenge to you: Take the next days and weeks to think about your own blueprint. Find those things you are doing or are a part of you–not just your day job (whether that’s in an office or a classroom), but your skills and strengths. And then think about how you will use them going forward, and make that commitment to excellence, whatever it may look like to you.
And now I leave you with this footage of Mr. King delivering his speech. If you prefer, you can also read a somewhat pared down transcript here. (I couldn’t find a full transcript to link up.)
Be well, be strong, be true.