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The Tentacle


January 18, 2006

''We all share a dream''

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was born 77 years ago on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, GA. He is best remembered as a courageous civil rights leader in the tumultuous era of the late 1950s and 1960s when America finally addressed the scourge of racism and worked to transform our country into a more just and humane society for everyone.

In 1986, Dr. King's birthday became a federal holiday to commemorate the memory and achievements of this great American leader.

Dr. King first burst on the national leadership scene on December 5, 1955, five days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, in direct opposition to Montgomery, Alabama’s segregated bus laws.

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. King holds an honored place in American history for his exceptional public speaking skills. He gave his last speech in Memphis, TN, on April 3, 1968, the day before he was killed.

He may best be remembered for his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington on August 28, 1963, in front of an audience of 250,000. In one of the first events of its kind to be covered by the growing impact of television, he made quite an impression on the conscience of America.

Despite fame and accolades, however, Dr. King faced many challenges to his leadership. Never-the-less, he remained a tireless and resourceful advocate of non-violent approaches to change.

In 1963, he was Time Magazine's Man of the Year.

In the middle of the unpleasantness of the civil rights movement, in December 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Did he take this opportunity to unload on America? No, this is an excerpt of the tone of his remarks:

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” (Dr. King, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 11, 1964.)

Compare those words to that of playwright Harold Pinter, whose published remarks on December 7, 2005, “Art, Truth & Politics” at the occasion of his award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, choose not to expound upon the current state of literature in the world, but rather to share how he wants America to change. There are no reports as to whether or not his words were accompanied by renowned international foreign relations scholar Barbara Streisand.

According to a recent column, “Comparisons lack credibility” by Jay Ambrose, Mr. Pinter compared President George W. Bush to Hitler and “likened the United States to the Soviet Union during the Cold War as if it were equally genocidal and equally oppressive.” In Mr. Pinter’s own warm magnanimous friendly manner, he said, America is "more dangerous than Nazi Germany."

Mr. Pinter should have devoted the time he spent on his diatribe on writing fiction rather than torture us with his miscreant version of promoting peace in our time. Dan K. Thomasson, of Scripps Howard News Service, was correct in saying: “He missed his chance to say something important…”

Leadership is often promoting change by leading the community to a place that it may not understand it needs to go; in an era when petty politics is all about figuring out whom to co-opt, malign and blame.

The Gazette reported on January 13, “Opening Day 2006:” “Senate President Mike Miller started it off Tuesday, telling a raucous bunch of Democrats that Bob Ehrlich’s service to Marylanders is akin to a one-eyed bull humping a cow.”

Although colorful, conventional wisdom states that this is not quite the Kingian leadership we expect from a distinguished practitioner who wants to promote a better dialogue in Annapolis.

A leader like Dr. King used his power to forge a solution that involved mutual respect, love and understanding. Resolving social and economic problems enhances the strength and stability of a community. Our families and community cannot prosper if society fails.

Dr. King had a great impact upon our nation and the world, but it didn’t come easily. He encountered strong criticism from more militant leaders such as Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. Despite these leadership conflicts, Dr. King remained committed to the use of non-violent techniques.

What made Dr. King’s leadership so great? How could a black pastor, with roots a few generations out of slavery, ascend from the South and speak to a nation with words that would find a place in American history alongside the words of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln?

As it has appeared in print many times before, it bears repeating: “It is crucial to appreciate that King spoke first as an American. He spoke truth to power and was able to prevail in an incredibly adversarial leadership climate. He brought about change at a critical and pivotal moment in American history when change was not popular.”

It is a lesson for us all, no matter to which party we belong nor the color of our skin, ethnic heritage or religious background, we are all Marylanders and Americans.

Dr. King was a tireless and resourceful advocate of non-violent approaches to change: "Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it."

As we face the many challenges in our great state and country in 2006, it is important that we take time to bring the best of our history alive, front and center in the present.

We all share a dream of a better Maryland and a better America. We can begin today to make it happen by attempting, in our everyday lives, to respect our differences and work hard to promote a civil dialogue toward our goals.

Perhaps if we lead by personal example, we could ask our leaders in Annapolis and Washington to follow. We all face difficult challenges in leadership. We could all learn from how Dr. King responded. And that ain’t no bull.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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