Embracing diversity and imparting knowledge and skills that empower people to live together in peace within multicultural communities are core values for Sofia University. In this regard, among others, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an amazing role model. On January 15th, the nation honored his courage and vision.
This post celebrates Dr. King from the perspective of the hero’s journey. Following the hero’s journey in Sofia University’s Global Master of Arts in Transpersonal Psychology is a staple in the core curriculum, helping students to recognize the cyclical nature of life, and to acknowledge all stages of growth and self development.
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. : Social Activist and Influential Change Maker
“We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”
1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has left such a strong legacy in this country that America has set aside a day in his honor to recognize his achievements. Many people know little about his background, but his journey toward greatness was fraught with the same internal conflicts that anyone on the Hero’s Journey must confront. Cultural, social and parental influences strongly shaped King’s early childhood.
The Home Environment
Dr. King’s father was a minister, who himself was raised in a culture of ministry. King’s father grew up in a life seeped in racism and he chose a life of social activism to fight against it. His strong belief that racism, as well as a sense of racial superiority, was against God’s will shaped King Jr.’s upbringing. King Jr was clearly academically advanced, skipping both 9th and 11th grade to enroll in Morehouse College at age 15.
A Conflicted Life – Refusing the Calling
Not everything was great in King Jr.’s life.
- At age 12, young Martin jumped from a second story window at the family home, allegedly attempting suicide when he missed being at the bedside of his grandmother when she died.
- Despite his father’s hopes, King Jr. spent his first two years at Morehouse College unmotivated and continued questioning religion in general as well as overt religious displays.
- Rebelling against conservative values, King Jr. played pool (considered an unseemly activity), drank beer through most of his college years, and entered into a relationship with a white woman that was more than controversial.
The Awakening, the Mentor and Crossing Over
In Dr. King’s junior year at Morehouse, he took a Bible class and was soon spiritually awakened (despite being baptized at an early age). Finding his life path, King Jr. began to thrive.
- In 1948, he attended the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania and thrived. He was elected student body president, earned a graduate fellowship and was chosen valedictorian of his class in 1951.
- Finding a spiritual mentor under the guidance of Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays, an outspoken advocate for racial equality, King was encouraged to view Christianity as a potential force for social change.
Moving Humanity Forward – Finding the Approach & Living the Challenge
Martin Luther King Jr.’s rise to prominence began with the arrest of Rosa Parks (pictured) in December, 1955. The head of the NAACP, E.D. Nixon, chose Dr. King to lead a citywide bus boycott. With youth and strong family connections, Dr. King had strong credibility within the black community. After 382 days of intimidation, violence and refusing to board the buses, the financial losses finally made the city of Montgomery lift the law mandating segregated public transportation.
This success led civil rights leaders to create an organization that would coordinate efforts nationwide. In 1957, Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy and over 60 activists and ministers created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Gandhi and JFK – Allies of Non Violence
Inspired by Gandhi’s success with non-violence, in 1959 Dr. King organized a trip to India which encouraged him to increase his commitment to non-violent actions within the civil rights movement. When he returned, he became co-pastor with his father at the family church while continuing his civil rights efforts.
In 1960 at a lunch counter sit-in, Dr. King and others were arrested when they continued to sit at the counter after being refused service and told to leave. The mayor of the city of Atlanta where the sit-in took place, recognized that with Dr. King’s national notoriety, the city would suffer and so he released.everyone. But Dr. King would be imprisoned not long after that for a simple traffic violation. It was then when presidential nominee, John F Kennedy interceded, and political pressure soon got Dr. King’s release.
The Dream – Having a Vision
On August 28. 1963, Dr. King gave his most recognized speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His “dream” consisted of more than a vision, but a request of a nation to honor their words.
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice… But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir… Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”
What did Dr. King envision? Among many of his statements, this is the most famous.
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Revising the Vision – Tests and Enemies
Although Dr. King’s movement was becoming more popular, and had now expanded to Chicago and Los Angeles, young black leaders increasingly began to challenge his methods. Dr. King, ever vigilant, decided to expand the vision of civil rights to not only the Vietnam War but to issues of poverty. His hope was to broaden his base to include all disadvantaged and unemployed people of all races.
The Dream is Questioned – Reaching the Inner Most Cave of Doubt
No matter how brave, strong or supported we may be on our journeys, as humans we all become weary. This was no different with Dr. King. After so many years of energetic and passionate dispute and confrontations, Dr. King began to get discouraged as to whether civil rights were possible.
“I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” April 3, 1968 speech
The Ordeal – A Dream Never Dies – A Hero is Reborn
The day after Dr. King gave his prophetic speech about never reaching the promised land, he was shot while standing on a balcony at his hotel by James Earl Ray. Dr. King’s death left a lasting impression, as seen by riots and demonstrations across the nation, but also further into history. Since that time, he has been honored, not only with streets and schools named after him,but with a national holiday.
Martin Luther King Jr. Biography http://www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr-9365086
The Hero’s Journey http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm