Guest Commentary

Youth still inspired by MLK’s dream

Years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting civil rights legend and former US ambassador, Andrew Young. During our conversation, Ambassador Young talked about the lighter side of his mentor, colleague and friend, Martin Luther King, Jr.

He revealed how King enjoyed laughing with friends, was quite the jokester and was a crafty basketball player who could drive and shoot with both hands because he was ambidextrous.

In contrast to my more serene images of King, this informal depiction of the civil rights icon reminded me that King was relatively young when he led the movement.

In my mid-twenties, I wrestled with career choices and graduate school applications. In his mid-twenties, King headed a church, led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

My early thirties marked the beginning of my professorial career; King’s early thirties marked his monumental March on Washington and his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize.

I believe King’s youth was more of an asset than a liability behind his effective leadership.

His movement philosophy drew inspiration from Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Howard Thurman.

It was the product of a pliable mind fresh out of graduate school, not the kind of eclectic theorizing you saw from his older clerical colleagues.

With youth and inexperience on his side, King was not boxed in by tradition, but enjoyed improvisational space to orchestrate dynamic protest strategies that awakened the moral consciousness of a nation.

Activists all over the world have implemented his civil rights discourse and tactical maneuvers to challenge oppressive regimes and leverage power structures toward change.

King’s heroic legacy reminds our students that youth does not have to be an impediment to effective leadership, it can be the mechanism that brings forth a more hopeful future.

Shayne Lee, Ph.D, is an associate professor of sociology and may be reached at [email protected].

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