The word hero is thrown around far too often and easily in the media. The mere fact that someone is well known or they do something that is deemed heroic seems to predispose them to this label which should be used in rare occasions when it really applies.
What makes someone a hero?
Merriam-Webster gives 2 definitions of hero as “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities” and “a person who is greatly admired”.
Great or brave acts.
I suppose that could fit many individuals. The classic image of the fireman saving a kitten from the tree certainly is admirable and many people would call this person a hero, but I choose to limit my usage for extreme cases, far from the norm.
I never had any black friends growing up. If I offend anyone by using this term and not African-American I mean no disrespect, I simply don’t know what the preferred term is. If anyone called me white (I would say more an off-peach color) I wouldn’t be offended, so I hope using the word “black” is okay.
I didn’t have any black friends growing up not because I avoided those friendships, I simply didn’t have many black kids at the schools (public through high school, and then a private college) in Massachusetts. There were many times in my life where my only friend had 4 legs, a tail, and fur. I would have welcomed any friend and certainly couldn’t be choosy on the basis of color.
For much of my life I didn’t even know how to act around black people as I felt guilty simply for being a white man. I saw white men as the very definition of the majority of people that brought so much pain and suffering to so many (blacks, Native Americans, etc.) for something they had no control over whatsoever, the color of their skin.
My first memory of a black person that stands out in my mainly white world was when my parents got divorced around the age of 9 years old I went to a black therapist and what stood out more than anything else wasn’t the color of his skin but that he was nice and kind to me.
For all my mother’s faults (and there were many), the one thing she did right is that racism and bigotry was never taught to me. I had friends of various walks of life and I am better for it.
I will always be better for diversity in my life.
The older I get, the less tolerance I have for bigotry in any form. There are good and bad people of every race, every gender, every orientation… we are simply people.
Judging people for things out of their control I see as bullying, abuse, and WRONG.
“Oh Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins” — Native American (Sioux) prayer
Given this history of abuse, history of wrongdoing, history of horrific acts, the natural tendency for many blacks it could easily be assumed would be to feel anger, the need to fight back as a form of defense. In that state of negativity it can also be understood why many would choose to turn to violence as a means of “righting the wrong”.
One man didn’t see things that way.
One man (and the countless people who believed in his cause then and still do today) believed that the history of “eye for an eye” and violence as the solution simply does not work.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
I don’t have the gift of speech like Martin Luther King, Jr.
That doesn’t mean I can’t communicate effectively in other ways.
I don’t share the same religious beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr.
That doesn’t mean I can’t respect and learn from the man.
I don’t share the skin color of Martin Luther King, Jr.
That doesn’t make me any better or worse than him.
I don’t write much about politics and/or religion because these are polarizing topics. I got inspired to write this piece in honor of Dr. King when years ago I overheard someone in my inner circle say that “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day isn’t a real holiday.” Following through in a manner that I feel Dr. King would be proud of, I said nothing, storing this quote away in my brain to be used in the future. In some ways I dreaded the day that I finally decided to write this post, for I felt no matter how many revisions I would make, it would never, COULD never do the man and what he stood for justice. I could never honor him adequately no matter how many words I wrote, or the words I chose to use.
47 years after he was murdered, I instead offer the argument that not only is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a “real” holiday, of the 10 United States Federal Holidays of note, one stands above all. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the MOST important American holiday there is.
“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy” — Batman Begins
There have been many important figures in American history, no doubt countless names who we have never heard of and never will hear of. Whether it’s good or bad (more a reality), marketing is required to spread knowledge and get people to act. Even if we don’t want there to be figureheads, we many times NEED them for the greater good.
George Washington was no doubt an important figure in American history, but he was a slave owner himself. As one of the founding fathers of the United States his legacy cannot be ignored, but is he the greatest?
Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and was a major factor in ending the American Civil War. Most polls list him as the greatest American President and like Dr. King, was murdered for his beliefs and actions. The greatest American? Close, but he was a white man, growing up in a white man’s world.
Lincoln fought and died for the abolishment of slavery.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for equal rights as a whole.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for equal rights in the only way that WORKS and he DIED for those beliefs, instantly becoming an eternal martyr for civil rights, spoken with the same type of reverence as Mahatma Gandhi by countless millions since that day nearly 50 years ago.
I mention this man all the time to my 10 year old daughter because he is the very definition of role model and HERO. I draw quotes from him as often as possible and I look to his wisdom and actions to help guide my own life.
Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a perfect man? The simple fact is that no one is perfect, not even the ones we hold with the utmost respect. Dr. King had flaws like anyone else and as a human, he made mistakes, just like everyone else does. His flaws do not define the man, and it is his flaws that better enable the average Jane and Joe to relate to him.
The memorial statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (which took far too long to come to fruition) was created not by a black American, not a white American, but by a Chinese sculptor. I find it an ironic, proper symbol of universal peace that no doubt Dr. King would be proud of.
“Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride”
Pride (In the Name of Love) from U2 – The Unforgettable Fire, 1984