To the point week of 1/18/07

7

THIS WEEK WE CELEBRATED the legacy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now close to 40 years since his assassination, there are two generations of Americans who only know of Dr. King because of the holiday that honors him and a few new reel clips from speeches that he gave.

But just because he is gone, many people in this country are still working and struggling to grasp and appreciate the central ideals of his message.

I must admit, I grew up and went to school in a small town much like Vevay – very white and very conservative. I could count the number of African-Americans who were in my high school; but just to the east, the city of Richmond, Indiana, was at times a hot bed for civil unrest.

I can remember our principal coming on the PA system and telling us not to go near Richmond High School once we were dismissed because there was some racial tensions. I remember different types of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) racism – and I remember thinking that it was all so terribly wrong.

After graduation, I attended Hanover College, not far from here. Again, it was small and it was white; as I recall less than a dozen people of color. There were many students from the Far East, but I again was encased in a world where race was not much of an issue.

After a short time living back in my hometown, my wife and I moved here in 1984, and again, there weren’t many race issues facing this community because there wasn’t much of a racial mixture.

But throughout all of these times, I have always admired Dr. King and the lives he touched and the words he spoke.

I carry a news clipping in my wallet that contains a sentence from one of Dr. King’s famous speeches. Although as a civil rights leader many people assume that he was only concerned with equality for African-Americans and their children; I believe that those ideas and words also ring true for not only the community in which I live, but also for my children.

That scrap of paper says that Dr. King looked forward to a time when his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but rather by the content of their character.”

Isn’t that true for all of us? Don’t we wish a world for our children and grandchildren in which the character that they exhibit will be of more importance than the color of their skin?

It’s not just a thought about race, however.

Ever felt “put down” by someone else or another group of people because you come from Switzerland County? Been to a basketball game and seen the students from the other school dress up like hillbillies as a way of saying hello to our fans?

Do you develop a certain mentality because you reside in the “land development”? Do you judge those who do?

See, it happens even in our own community. We do it to ourselves.

But in the world that Martin Luther King, Jr., envisioned, barriers like race and economic status and geographic location all pale in comparison to the character of the person.

The individual.

The man. The woman. The child.

All equal from the outside. All judged by the character that they carry inside.

I was once told that your reputation is what you show when others are watching; but character is what you show when no one is watching. I hope that the day exists when each and everyone of us is held to the same yardstick, the same units of measurement, here on earth.

Until that time, I think it’s important that we continue to teach our children about men like Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, and all of those who have picked up the call to help bring freedom and equality to all people.

No matter where.

No matter who.

No matter what.