Although I’ve never openly admitted it, I would like to clear up some of the rumors that have been circulating about me for several years now.
My name is Tom Fink, and yes, I am a white man.
Not that there’s any shame in this, per se (at least not in the white man part of that statement), but being the race and gender I am puts me into a dwindling group of citizens who’ve never been forced to endure the blatant profiling, biased or stereotyping that other races (and genders) have over the years.
That is of course, unless the blatant profiling, biased or stereotyping involves me being rich, and a member of a country club which, believe me, I ain’t.
As Americans black and white reflect on the 25th anniversary of the holiday of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I similarly reflect on the life of a man who lived and literally died maintaining the solid belief that each of us were meant to be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the grandson and the son of pastors, both of whom served at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., following in their footsteps as co-pastor from 1960 until the time of his death.
King attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of 15, and later receiving the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished black institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had graduated.
After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania (where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, incidentally) he was awarded the B.D. in 1951.
With a fellowship won at Crozer, King enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955.
In Boston, he met and married Coretta Scott, and two sons and two daughters were later born into the family.
In 1954, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, Dr. King was, by now, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation.
In late 1955, he accepted the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. This boycott lasted 382 days.
In 1957, Dr. King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement.
The ideals for this organization, Dr. King took from Christianity, with its operational techniques being inspired by Gandhi.
Between 1957 and 1968, Dr. King traveled over six million miles and spoke over 2,500 times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Ala., which caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience, and inspiring his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a manifesto of the black revolution.
He directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream,” conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Dr. King was arrested more than 20 times and assaulted at least four time. He was awarded five honorary degrees, named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963, and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.
At the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tenn., where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, Dr. King — one of history’s greatest men of peace — was assassinated.
Here’s the thing:
Even at my most empathic, as a white man, I can fully appreciate but can never truly comprehend what generations of black people in the past have had to endure.
Even so, Dr. King’s character and life command nothing short of profound respect, with his lifetime dedicated to raising awareness of racial equality, civil rights, and man’s responsibility to love and care for to his fellow man (and woman).
While it may not be as remembered well as “I have a dream,” Dr. King once said that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” — and how much more true that is now than when Dr. King first said it.
Rather than seeking to find means to divide ourselves from our fellow man — because of their race, class, religion, or really anything that’s different about them than us — we should be treating them as we would hope to be treated — with respect, dignity and yes, with love.