Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Not a Superhero
Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a superhero. Martin Luther King, Jr. was abundantly and completely human, with flaws and, like all humans, made mistakes. He was a man who listened, who learned, who owned his mistakes and who understood the power of silence.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not work alone deciding he would be the only person to affect change in the world. He worked with a team of similarly minded, non-superhero men and women. His team including people of many backgrounds and by naming students as leaders, he demonstrated an understanding that young people had has much to contribute as adults.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was challenged by human conflicts, unfaithful to his wife, smoked, and was not always certain of the ministry for a career. He also never claimed to be perfect. Many of his speeches call for learning from the mistakes we make, correcting the mistakes of history has made and courageously ensuring mistakes are not repeated.
Martin Luther King, Jr. appreciated the power of the voice as well as the image using media to enhance his message and requesting the same of colleagues in their activities for the movement Claudette Colvin was arrested 9 months before Rosa Parks for resisting bus segregation. Claudette was a teenager pregnant with a married man’s child. Wanting the focus to be on the cause not life circumstances, Claudette was not to be the face of resisting bus segregation instead she received support from the movement as she and four other plaintiffs in the case ending up before the supreme court and declaring bus segregation illegal.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was not “bigger than life”, a term commonly ascribed to him. While his message was (and still is) bigger than many others, it’s important to understand that he was not any more special than any of the rest of us. Standing 5’ 7” Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that one’s presence not connected to one’s size. Presence is about asking for help, working peacefully with others, understanding violence does not solve problems, believing in your message, understanding your humanity and learning your lessons. Presence is about speaking the truth to power and acting upon your beliefs.
For many, it's easier to believe he had superhero or divine like powers because we do not have those powers and could never live up to the example he set so, why try? By accepting that Martin Luther King, Jr. was as human as you and me, we also have to accept that our word and our actions can (and should) affect change as his did.
One person, one action, one word can create change. In this time of uncertainty, we need many people, many actions and many words to create a movement. Each of us can be a change agent. Those of us who have the joy of working with students need to continuously create spaces for them to know the power of their change agency status, the weight of their word, the impact of their actions and of their inactions. We need to help them understand that being exactly who they are and acting on their believes is enough.