Those Living A 'Purposeful Life' Keep Dr. Martin Luther King's Dream Alive
MLK Environmental Justice Luncheon Speech
January 15, 2008 - Welcome speech written for Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders.
Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, and I’d like to welcome you to this community luncheon about health and environmental justice. And I want to extend a special welcome to our distinguished special guest, Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., National President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
How appropriate that we meet to discuss justice on this day, January 15th—on what would have been the 79th birthday of a remarkable man who dedicated his life to a righteous cause, promoting understanding and equality, in an era of too much brutality and in too many regions of our nation state-sanctioned bigotry. He courageously waged a peaceful battle to change the world, striving until the day he died for there to be true justice for all.
Today, we honor how great a life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived, but we are saddened still for how brief that life was. April 4th of this year marks 40 years since Dr. King was taken from us. Forty years. He has now been gone longer than he was alive. Dr. King was taken from us at just 39 years old.
And we are left to ponder what might have been—what more he could have done had Dr. King been given more time. But what a difference he did make in such a short time on this Earth. Of course, it was Dr. King, himself, who once observed, “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”
Among the values that drove Dr. King was his belief that all human beings are to be respected—to be treated with dignity and a sense of kinship, regardless of their race, regardless of whether they are rich or poor.
Much progress was made during Dr.King’s life, and much more has been made since his untimely demise. But much work needs to be done still. Dr. King’s dream has not yet been fully realized.
Among the values that drove Dr. King was his belief that all human beings are to be respected—to be treated with dignity and a sense of kinship, regardless of their race, regardless of whether they are rich or poor. I suspect, were he alive today, Dr. King would be urging us to be more respectful of our Earth, for he realized everyone has a right to clean air and clean water. He understood when we defile the environment, we denigrate everyone, and too often those who have the least will suffer the most.
Dr. King, I also believe, would be at the forefront of the health care debate, insisting we can’t have equality with so much inequity in our nation’s health care system. We have the best health care system in the world... that money can buy. Would not Dr. King declare, “We must have health care for all”? Is that not what is just?
As I’ve looked back on the words Dr. King spoke or wrote, I am amazed how much they continue to resonate today. This man so devoted to non-violence understood the grave risks he was taking, saying in a speech in 1963, “I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. could not understand how so many others could simply stand by when they ought to stand up and challenge the status quo. Indifference, he emphasized, was among the greatest sins.
“Our lives,” he once said, “begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
What would Dr. King have to say today as poll after poll shows many Americans being so disinterested in those “things that matter”?
Don’t tune out. Speak out. Listen up. Be engaged. Get involved. For it as true today as it was when Dr. King said it in his final speech, “We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”
He lived such a purposeful life in pursuit of his dream—a dream Dr. King knew he almost certainly would not live to see become a reality. Perhaps it’s a dream without a final destination. It is up to us to continue the journey—to never settle for the status quo when we can do better
Again, I welcome you and Dr. Steele. I thank you for being here today.
And I thank all of you. I am happy to be with you today and honored to be included in this celebration.