"Part of me" - MLK message

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Marcus Snoddy
  • 96th Test Wing Command Chief
Throughout my life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been a personal hero of mine. From the time I wrote my first paper about him in elementary school to the time I wrote a poem about him in high school, Dr. King has always been a part of my life and my thoughts.

When I attended a developmental education course for senior leaders back in 2008, my course instructor asked the class to name one significant historical figure we'd like to spend the day with if we could.

Without hesitation, I told him Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When pressed to explain why I chose Dr. King I replied, "because he's a part of me."

I was born in Birmingham, Ala., which is in Jefferson County, in 1966 to a mother who had already raised six children before me. I was born into poverty, but I was not born poor. I was born the nephew of an aunt who had first-hand experiences with fire hoses and German Shepherds. I was born three years after the Birmingham campaign and two years after the passage of the civil rights act. I was born four minutes from Kelly Ingram Park and five minutes from the 16th Street Baptist Church. I was born a year and 11 months before we lost Dr. King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on that dreadful day in April.

Although I was born at a time when Dr. King's dream was still only a dream, as I grew up I watched the seeds of that dream take root and begin to bring about a harvest of change not only in the facilities and policies of the city of Birmingham, but more importantly, within its citizens.

For example, when I was nine years old, I suffered an injury to my right eye that put me in the hospital for more than a month. During that time, I shared a room with another boy who also had an eye injured as a result of an accident.

Although we couldn't see, this didn't stop us from getting to know one another.  Throughout our time together we would laugh and talk and share stories about our friends and our family. Through our conversations and laughter we found we had a lot in common to include a love of sports and books and a unique sense of humor.

We really had a good time together and eventually became friends. Yet neither one of us was concerned about what the other one looked like, because it didn't matter to us. Even after our bandages came off, and he could see I was black and I could see he was white, nothing changed. He was still Kevin, I was still me and we were still friends.

Although we lost contact after being discharged from the hospital, I never forgot the experience. Kevin, along with other experiences I've had, has served to remind me of just how significant Dr. King's contributions to humanity were despite the brevity of his life.

When you think of Dr. King and take a look at his entire body of work it's plain to see he was a man of courage, compassion and commitment.

From his beginnings as the head of the Montgomery Improvement Association to his support for Memphis, Tennessee's garbage workers, its clear Dr. King placed the needs of others ahead of his own even when he wasn't sure he was the right man for the job.

Instead of walking away or giving in to uncertainty or desperation, Dr. King continued to persevere and never allowed his fear to overpower him. He stood his ground, faced his adversaries and, ultimately, overcame them. He subdued his adversaries not by using force, but by using Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non¬violent civil disobedience and a keen intellect that wrapped inside of a mind every bit as tough as the one he'd described during a sermon to the Dexter Ave Baptist Church he gave back in August of 1959.

During that sermon, titled "tough mind, tender heart," Dr. King used Jesus' advice to his disciples to "be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" to describe the duality of nature a man must possess if he truly wants to be Christ-like and live a life of dedicated service to his fellow man.

"Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment," Dr. King said. "The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crusts of legend and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough minded individual is astute and discerning. He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment."

In essence, what Dr. King was telling the congregation was their mind had to be capable of getting to the heart of an issue, even when others sought to obscure it, and be capable of recognizing truth from fantasy in order to identify the real needs of their fellow man.

Additionally, Dr. King said having a tough mind was essential to facilitating necessary change because, as he put it, "the soft-minded man always fears change." Dr. King didn't end his sermon there. Instead, understanding that a tough mind needed to be balanced by compassion, in order to truly be of service, Dr. King challenged his listeners to simultaneously cultivate what he called "the tender heart."

According to him, when left to its own devices the tough mind becomes cold, distant and perfunctory. It moves beyond the realm of genuine service to others and, if left unchecked, becomes calculating, selfish, and lonely. The solitary tough mind doesn't act in the best interests of its fellow man out of sincerity of purpose or a sense of brotherhood, it does so simply because it must.

However, when the tough mind is coupled with the tender heart the resultant whole becomes an unstoppable force that's focused on the betterment of society. The now combined tough mind, tender heart is critical yet understanding; commanding yet compassionate.

The combined tough mind, tender heart not only recognizes the suffering of its fellow man, it understands their pain deeply and shares in willingly. As a result, the combined tough mind, tender heart takes up their cause as its own and acts out of love to alleviate their predicament, even if doing so leads to the untimely demise of the combined tough mind, tender heart.

I'd like to close by posing three questions that hopefully act as a guide to those who serve.

First, whom do you serve? Do you truly serve the needs of others or are your actions and decisions based on a desire, even if unspoken, for recognition or greatness?

Second, how do you serve? Do you serve only when it's convenient or beneficial to you or, does your service take place whenever and wherever it's needed; even when no one else is around?

Finally, why do you serve? What is it that drives you to serve? Is it a genuine passion to improve the lives of others or is it simply a function of your job or a requirement of your position?

Regardless of how one answers or doesn't answer the three questions their purpose remains the same, to get one to look at the way one serves and, if required, improve it. If each of us engaged in delivering genuine service at home, at work, and at our respective places of worship we would truly embody the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther Ling, Jr. and, as a result continue his legacy.