By: James Span, Jr., MDiv, MSA (He/Him/His)
Executive Director | Student Inclusion and Diversity
Multicultural Academic Student Services
I love being Black. This inherently means I also love celebrating Black History Month. It provides me an opportunity to unapologetically demonstrate pride in my racial identity by highlighting the contributions Black men and women have made throughout this nation’s history. The scroll is littered with the names of inventors, educators, civil rights activists, politicians, pastors, theologians, engineers, sports figures, artists, entertainers, war heroes and entrepreneurs. These individuals simultaneously motivate me to love who I am, while also challenging me to find the spaces where I can influence change and make an impact. However, one such individual has inspired me more than the others.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, in his early years Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was extremely close to both his maternal grandfather, Adam Daniel Williams, and father, Martin Sr. affectionately known as Daddy King. They each had a tremendous influence on his life. Both men served as pastors of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which became the spiritual home of Dr. King. Both also attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, so chances are they had something to do with the decision for it to become Dr. King’s educational home.
Beyond God’s call on his life, Dr. King could likely attribute the direction of his life’s work in ministry and civil rights to being raised in a Christian home, while also witnessing several accounts of his father’s refusal to accept segregation and discrimination as a way of life for Black people. It is likely the influence of these unfortunate incidents that prompted Dr. King, among other actions, to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, pen the letter from the Birmingham jail in 1963 and launch the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. The motivation and inspiration for the man who would become known as a drum major for justice can be attributed to the impact of his grandfather and father and the injustices he witnessed in his youth.
It is important to acknowledge those who influence us into action to address the trying times we find ourselves in as a nation. We need to recognize the aspirational value of someone like Dr. King: a man who had a normal childhood, enjoyed spending time with their his family, had a healthy appreciation for education, a moral conscience, a desire to serve others, and intentionally sought opportunities to make the world a better place. Dr. King once shared, “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.” The record of our nation will forever acknowledge the contributions Dr. King had on civil rights, and his efforts to combat the ills of segregation, discrimination, racism, militarism and economic injustices. What will be said of you?
As we commemorate his life and legacy during Black History Month, let us each strive to be like Dr. King and allow individuals, instances and institutions to inspire and motivate us into action. We should commit our lives to doing our individual and collective parts to achieve the Beloved Community by celebrating diversity, demanding equity and encouraging inclusion. The greatness that existed in Dr. King also resides in each of us. We are the sum total of the experiences in our lives; therefore, we should allow those experiences to fuel our efforts to leave this world better than we found it. So, what’s next? I’m glad you asked! Identify your who. Determine your what. Pinpoint your when. Locate your where. Find your why. Decide your how. And then, get busy making a difference! For if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?