Monday, January 21, 2019, a day set aside to reflect on the life of a powerful force for change in American society. On this day, how many Americans will access the near instantaneous knowledge, which we now have in our pockets, to read, watch, and learn about the life and times in which Dr. King stood out as a force for good?
In “What is Your Life’s Blueprint,” a speech given on October 26, 1967 at Barrett Junior High School in Philadelphia, Dr. King addressed the future. He outlined the way forward for the personal success of a youthful audience and their future participation in the civil rights movement through merit, self-worth, pride, and a responsibility to be the greatest they can be, regardless of their life’s course.
Words of an enduring and infinite nature like these drive the question: “Where is their place in the society of today?” The latest media frenzy, outside of the usual Washington gridlock, involves a confrontation between indigenous people, Black Hebrew Israelites, and youth from a Catholic High School on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And while the usual competing forces have taken to their ideological sides, framing this event for their agenda, the words spoken by Dr. King loom large. Dr. King displayed not just a great understanding that the future of the Civil Rights movement sat before him, but of the impressionable nature of youth and the importance of laying a solid blueprint for their success. Given our political climate, is taking a group of youth dressed in Make America Great Again apparel to Washington to attend a controversial rally a solid blueprint? Supporting the tenants of faith is important, as is providing youth opportunities to participate in discourse and conversation, in this case the March for Life Rally. However, where were the chaperones, administrators and staff that allowed these minors to engage with a differing ideology in this context? Did it not send up a red flag when teenagers showed up wearing MAGA gear? Furthermore, is the development of youth not a societal responsibility? Posing the question, why would responsible adults attempt to engage in a confrontation with teenagers? Do students truly possess the necessary life experience to understand and be open to such diverse viewpoints, or was this an opportunity to exploit them for the next viral moment?
Exposure to varying viewpoints is vital to produce well rounded citizens and fosters a broad perspective for a promising future. Much like the previously mentioned event, shout-downs and safe spaces, on college campuses, exploit youthful vulnerability, skewing perspective and bolstering factions. Is this one-sided participation preparing future generations? Creating, knowingly or not, opportunities for preprogrammed civic participation that are void of uninhibited thought, and designed to incite and/or isolate difference, whether in agreement or not, is not just irresponsible but imperiling to future generations.
On that October evening in 1967, Dr. King outlined a path for shared success to be benefitted from by future society, but he warned against hate, specifically never allowing oneself to hate opposing individuals or viewpoints, cautioning against the resulting “loss of self-respect.” How can we respect ourselves when we have no respect for others? In the aftermath of this American polarization, will the legacy of the early 21st century be one where we sanitized minds and pushed difference on behalf of faction and political aspiration, all the while fumbling for a winner in longstanding division? We owe our youth the kind of impassioned, thoughtful, and responsible leadership that was conveyed in 1967. Regardless of difference, we must reach out to these future generations with the blueprint laid out by Dr. King, lighting their path in the darkness of our confusing times.