Higher Learning
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Higher Learning

MLK Day 2022

Reflecting on purpose and persistence

Martin Luther King, Jr., Morehouse Class of 1948 (Photo from Morehouse College).

I have a pretty long history with MLK Day.

I can remember back to when it was just an idea, then an optional event, and later a national holiday, finally embraced by all states twenty-two years ago. I’m now thinking back to that gray era when Black student leaders on my campus pushed the university administration to fully recognize the day. In many ways, this activism mirrored King’s messages (and King had many; I encourage us all to spend some time reading today). We had to take a stand for what we thought was right.

Each MLK day has been different for me. Some have been about service, some about family, some about rest, some about programs and events, some about reflecting. Today I am thinking about purpose, and not simply the moments that launched King on his freedom journey, but the many factors that meshed together to sustain him. His work was far from easy, and his vision of a more perfect union — and a more just world — was deemed radical and dangerous by the powers that be. In a “free” nation built through suppression and violence, there was no place for actual equality. History had already made that abundantly clear.

But King persisted. He marched. He preached. He spoke. He mobilized. He led. Today I am thinking about the strength he summoned to press forward, and the community of love and care that evolved around him to keep him whole.

I’m carrying these thoughts and praying that each high school and college student, each counselor, each student affairs professional, each mentor, each educator can find clarity on their purpose, and create the communal conditions to persist. This is a fundamental lesson in life, and one that I have tried to capture effectively in Higher Learning. I believe that when we are working for something bigger, we must be open to heeding calls that we may not fully understand in the moment, but will order our steps over time. This was certainly the case for my college journey, where each MLK Day brought renowned speakers and pointed challenges to continue the work. There is still much to be done. I hope that we can all think about our role, our life’s work, and our visions for tomorrow, and feel inspired to persist and grow together.

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