This past weekend, our campus, region, state, and nation celebrated the 95th birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the holiday approached, it is important to reflect on not just the personality of the man, but the principles he lived by.
Unquestionably, Dr. King was an extremely impressive personality and one of my heroes. However, the principles he embraced and incorporated into his philosophy represent an enduring legacy on the man. In that regard, ideas are the substance of behavior, and as we strive to create a greater degree of congruence between our ideal selves and our real selves, it is principle that helps each of us outline the blueprints to a more self-actualized future.
Sixty years ago, in 1964, Dr. King delivered the quote above while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. But even with the honorary and aesthetic ambiance of the Nobel ceremony in Sweden, America witnessed a range of human endeavors that challenged us to be its best in everything. We saw advances from science, including unveiling new affordable and available technology like the color TVs, to the latest automotive vehicle.
There was the introduction of Saturn V rocket engines that would later help launch astronauts into space and even in sports, we had a new heavyweight boxing champion. Indeed, we were making strides toward space travel while sending teams to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.
Yet amid all of that innovation, creativity, ingenuity, and American know-how, our nation was in the midst of civil rights struggles and demonstrations led by Dr. King. There were urban rebellions in cities across America, particularly in Harlem and Rochester, NY, as well as Jersey City and Elizabeth City, NJ, in response to police abuse of Black teens, economic deprivation, unemployment, discrimination, and racial inequality.
Fast forward sixty years to our present day, and our innovative spirit continues to sparkle while America’s misery index of social inequality, racial injustice, police misconduct that threatens principally Black and Brown lives, toxic political party differences that shred the fabric of our democracy, gun violence, homelessness, along with global skirmishes paint a less than optimistic picture of a more perfect union.
Despite our advances, we have not found a path to love our way through the darkness of our biases, adversities, and disagreements, particularly those that cross the boundary from intentional harm to straight-up evil. The notion of “right, temporarily defeated” sounds like an excellent illustration of our condition as a society as the gains of the past are slowly eroding away with public policy and court decisions serving as the instruments of their demise.
In that same Nobel Prize acceptance speech, King spoke out for basic human rights of everyday citizens, saying, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” If unarmed truth and unconditional love can achieve even a moment of mastery over evil triumphant, then we need to take Dr. King’s message to heart. Unarmed truth doesn’t use facts and data as weapons to denigrate someone’s position or person, but rather seeks to create more observational bridges toward a better understanding of each other’s perspectives and humanity. Unconditional love extends kindness, compassion, empathy, and deep affection towards others without requirements to meet certain conditions before those feelings can be extended. These sentiments seem to capture what we embrace at CSUDH, and more broadly in the CSU.
This year, as our Toro family welcomes in the Spring 2024 semester, let me invite you to approach it with the audacity to believe, as did Dr. King, that basic needs are human rights, that the education faculty provides and students experience can and is transformative, that right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant, and that the dignity, equality, and freedom we all desire can be celebrated in each and every one of us.