Dr. King, the architect of a new America

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I believe that Dr. King’s time in the Philadelphia area, where he attended Crozer Theological Seminary near Chester, Pa., played a critical role in shaping his values and his leadership. He didn’t simply disappear into his studies. He traveled the region, especially the neighborhoods, churches and homes of my hometown, Philadelphia.

To me the most important teaching of Dr. King came not in his “I Have a Dream” speech but in one of those visits to South Philadelphia, where he told a group of school children, you can be the architect of your own lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the architect of a new America. As my fraternity brother Hill Harper has said in one of his inspirational messages, for an architect to build a significant structure he must first have a foundation to support that structure.

Dr. King’s structure was built upon a foundation of, first of all, a faith in God that was uncompromising and without equivocation. Second was his strong family and extraordinary education – learning to read before he started school, up through graduation from Morehouse as a teenager, then Crozer, Boston University and finally his doctorate of philosophy in systematic theology.   

A wise person once said, “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Another declared that the  highest reward for a person's toil is not what he or she gets for it but what the person becomes by it.

Dr. King embodied these ideals in every aspect of his life, in every fiber of his being.

When you think about the bars of the Birmingham Jail, or the sharp edge of the knife when he was stabbed by a member of his own race, or the rain of billy clubs from Southern so-called law enforcers, or the bombing of his home or the threats against his life -- or the determined objections of his staff to stay silent on the Vietnam War or finally his decision to go to Memphis – here was a man who was truly, totally the architect of his own life.

Dr. Martin Luther King has secured a place for all of us on the National Mall and in the heart of our nation. His legacy has improved the lives, and the life chances, of our entire country. He has made the world a better place. Dr. King’s life is the foundation upon which this National Memorial is built.