The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: Celebrating a legacy of 13 years

On Monday we will celebrate the national holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. His legacy was achieved in a span of less than 13 years – December 1955 to April 4, 1968.


In 2013, I find it fascinating to think that his leadership of the modern American civil rights movement was achieved in 13 years. He was able to achieve more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years. Dr. King was widely regarded as an advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in history.

Dr. King drew his inspiration from his faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Even as highly revered as Dr. King was, the civil rights leader had a role model – a positive adult role model.

In schools all over the country, students during January will participate in activities relating to Dr. King. I remember reciting his famous “I Have A Dream” speech as part of an oratorical contest. I won by default, because there wasn’t another competitor in the oral reading category. During the school year, students are taught about his accomplishments, which clearly show us his legacy will live on forever – his legacy of 13 years.

Fast-forward to 2013, and I’m wondering how many positive adult role models our young people have to emulate. Despite the large number of adolescents and teenagers – who too often go publicly unnoticed, who are doing positive things in our community, getting good grades in school, being respectful and not getting into trouble – we are lagging behind in demonstrating what our youth yearn for to succeed in society.


THE HEADLINES and first few minutes of television news broadcasts scream with publicity about kids overcrowding the juvenile court system, armed robberies, killing other youths, hitting their teachers, fighting in schools – I can go on. Kids’ exposure to violent video games, music that glorifies violence and hate, neighborhood crime, and negative adult role models are taking the souls of our children.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King is, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Where are the so-called good people? The positive adult role models? They are there, but they are too silent.

Can you look back over the past 13 years of your life and, despite your shortcomings, be willing to talk to a youth about it? Our children need transparent adults willing to admit they made mistakes, but overcame them. In your past 13 years, certainly there is something you can share with a young person that can encourage them amid all this chaos. Our children need hope.

There are some who believe the number 13 is bad luck or evil. The optimist in me thinks otherwise. We are in the year 2013, and this year can be the best year in your life. What is going to be your legacy in this same time span?

Our community and the world needs more adults to leave a positive legacy that our youth can read and hear about so they can emulate and become change-makers, trendsetters, opinion-makers, leaders, community activists and problem-solvers of the future.

As important as Dr. King is and will forever continue to be, don’t you want to add more names to that list? No, you don’t have to win a Nobel Peace Prize or be a modern civil rights leader – you can create your own legacy.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I wish we could go back to the good ol’
days”? Well, in the old days, there were more two-parent households and more community within the community. People didn’t mind being or getting involved with someone else’s children, and there was more love and respect for one another. These were and are still the fundamental aspects of life that most of us crave and, frankly, must have.


EVEN IN OUR high-tech society, with the wealth of information our youth are exposed to, our basic needs still exist. Too many of us have gotten so clever that we are missing what really is important. Think about it: When was the last time you told a child you loved them or even gave them a hug – whether he or she is your child or not? When was the last time you encouraged a young person, especially if they’ve made a mistake? Are you putting so much pressure for children to be perfect that you’re causing unnecessary stress in their lives?

Gary Chapman wrote a book many years ago called The Five Love Languages. The book series has sold millions. Those five love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, giving gifts, quality time and physical touch. The book focuses on couples discovering the secret of love that lasts. The concept became so popular that the author developed a series of “love language” quizzes for every age group. It’s pretty fascinating and I encourage you
to research it and try it out with your family. No matter what your family looks like – two-parent household; grandparents raising children and grandchildren; single-parent household – the five love languages can be applied and can work.

Thirteen years – your legacy. While we celebrate the life and work of Dr. King, and the positive impact he made and is still making on youth today, make a concerted effort to create your own legacy so you can serve as a positive adult role model for the next generation of leaders.


(The writer is a radio talk show host, author, life coach and mental health advocate in Augusta.)