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Head of School's Blog

Occasional musings from Head of School Brad Bates

Presentation from Dr. MLK Jr. Day

Over the last week, I have been reading Jonathan Eig’s new and award-winning biography of Dr. King: A Life. I have studied and taught about Dr. King in a historical context for over thirty years. This book, however, provides beautiful stories of his life and how his youth shaped the person he would become, an individual willing to die to end inequality in the United States.

Dr. King grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where his parents ran the Ebenezer Baptist Church. One foundational story of Dr. King’s life involved his relationship with a white boy he played with in his neighborhood. When Dr. King was six, he went to a school for black children, and his friend went to a school for white children. The white boy’s parents told their son he could no longer play with young Martin (who was known as Michael at that time). Martin was crushed to learn, for the first time, that he was being judged by the color of his skin. When he told his parents that he now hated all white people, they told him that it was his Christian duty to love all people. They taught him about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Segregation. The seeds of Dr. King’s nonviolent approach to equity and justice were sown at an early age.

Mr. Eig points out that what is truly remarkable about Dr. King is that he accomplished so much in a career that spanned only about thirteen years. Dr. King’s efforts as a Baptist minister, community leader, and civil rights activist led to substantive change in this country. Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in helping to bring about the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, two landmark pieces of legislation that, while not ending racism, led to the legal dismantling of Jim Crow Laws that separated Americans on an unequal basis.

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while supporting a strike of the Memphis sanitation workers. Efforts to honor Dr. King’s legacy with a day like the one we are celebrating today began immediately following his death, but a Federal holiday was not legislated until 1983. Credit goes to his widow Coretta Scott King and the King Center, and the Congressional Black Caucus for leading the effort.

I want to share a short paragraph from one of my favorite speeches from Dr. King that he delivered in 1966 called “Proud to be Maladjusted.” Dr. King often called for “creative maladjustment” and challenged people not to normalize inequality and oppression of any kind.

“Proud to be Maladjusted” (1966)

“There are some things in our society and some things in our world for which I am proud to be maladjusted. And I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to racial segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, leave millions of God’s children smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”

What does creative maladjustment look like to you, to us, as we look out at the world today? It is important to realize on this day that Dr. King’s vision and dreams are not fully realized. We celebrate this day to remind ourselves that we have both internal and external work to do, work within our own minds, and work to support a more just and equal society.

Here at Dublin, we ground our efforts in our mission; by pursuing opportunities for meaningful work, by engaging the world with curiosity, and by seeking truth and acting with courage.

I encourage you to celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy, and the movement he inspired and took part in by opening your mind, being curious, and learning more about equity, justice, and service. I hope we can all reflect on ways we can make our country and our world a better place through our actions and our service. Let’s be maladjusted when it comes to racism, religious bigotry, and financial inequality.

I want to conclude with more brief words from Dr. King delivered before the congregation of the Ebenezer Baptist Church shortly before his death in 1968:

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking before the Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1968.)