As I reflect on the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 I consider him to be one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century. King was a man chosen by God to respond to the cries of injustice and discrimination against African Americans. He was a modern-day Moses, courageously challenging America to change the dehumanizing laws of segregation upheld in the South.

When he started out, I do not think King planned to be the leader of a movement. Yet his family, background, education, intellect, and training prepared him for the moment. King was a young preacher in Alabama when he was catapulted to the forefront in response to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. He and other leaders called Blacks to stand together in the bus boycott. King challenged African Americans to refuse to give their hard-earned dollars to a bus system that treated them as second-class citizens. King reminded African Americans of the freedom they had received and reassured them of the options they could exercise in the face of segregation. The African American bus riders chose to exercise their options by walking and carpooling for over a year. The buses remained empty and the message was loud and clear. The boycott crippled the Montgomery, Alabama’s economy. The protest received national attention; the civil disobedience caused the laws to change and the Civil Rights Movement was born. I am amazed and inspired as I watch the videos and see the strength and power of this unified, organized, cooperative non-violent movement that changed history just forty years ago.

The momentum from the Montgomery victory challenged King to continue to face the giant of racism and discrimination throughout the South. King fought hate with love and met violence with non-violence. When I watch the dogs, the hoses, the water, the police beatings, the bombings, the lynching, the stabbings, and the murders initiated by southern whites against blacks, I am shocked and appalled. When I watch the marchers, both blacks and whites, responded peacefully by singing of "We Shall Overcome Someday", I am moved to tears and action. I cry in response to the pain inflicted and the pain endured. I act by accepting my responsibility in educating this present generation of youth helping them understand the price paid for the liberties we enjoy and so often take for granted.

Although he studied the writings and works of Ghandi in India, King unapologetically lived out the Christian faith and modeled the life and message of Jesus Christ. King believed what Jesus teaches all followers "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (The Bible, NIV, Matthew 16:24-25) King discovered his life’s purpose as he gave his life to and for the cause of justice and equality for all people. After King’s assassination, some attempted to expose his faults, failures and mistakes, which we all have. Yet his life still serves as a gentle reminder to us all that God does not call the equipped. God equips the called.

Although I believe much has been accomplished since the 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream", the dream is still an unfolding reality in America. Racism and discrimination still exist today; yet can be harder to detect or prove. African Americans are still murdered daily yet many of the culprits are other African Americans. Jails and for profit prisons are filled with young African American men serving time for drug charges. Yet a catalyst for drug abuse is the importing of drugs into this country, which is not always addressed. Although everyone has received the right to vote, somehow votes are still being lost and not counted in major elections. These examples remind me that much progress has been made; yet there still remains much progress to be made.

Today, I believe the "baton of progress" dangles in the air waiting to be received by 21st Century leaders. For the dream to be actualized, I believe God is calling men and women, who are courageous, authentic and who must be willing to give of themselves for the greater good of humanity. As these 21st Century leaders continue to arise and answer the call and carry the baton, the dream will one day soon, become a reality.

- Pastor Julie