What We Can All Learn From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.” –  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, we celebrate the life and person of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When we think of this day, and the incredible man, we likely think of equal rights and the struggle against racism and segregation. We think of nonviolent resistance, “a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love.” We might think about his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech to a quarter million people at the March on Washington. And of course, we think of service. The day, after all, is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

In our collective memory, Dr. King looms large; his legacy, monumental. A lofty, perhaps unattainable vision of someone who lived his life committed to certain ideals—and who, in death, is memorialized as an icon.

But for a moment, let’s get beneath the legend and consider Dr. King the man—not the granite representation of equality, freedom, and love, but someone who walked through 14,000 days on this earth, who felt anger, who faced conflict, and who made mistakes. It is in examining who he really was, all the tiny and not-so-tiny decisions and actions that went into defining his character, that is important when considering how his life might inform our own.

Dr. King placed great importance on goodness and character. He navigated his path at a time of considerable racism and intolerance—preaching his ideals and also living by them so that they infused his smallest actions. He sought to serve. He treated others with respect. He listened. He looked people in the eye. He empathized. He shook the hands of his adversaries rather than turning away. He stood up for his beliefs. He was inclusive. He was gracious and compassionate and thankful. He understood the power of a smile, a kind word, a compliment. He knew that even the smallest act of caring could change a life.

This is what ThinkGive is all about. Inspiring and shining a light on all the small choices and actions that, as a whole, make up a person’s identity. As one 7th grade ThinkGive participant wrote, “I am trying to think before I do. Actions and words can hurt, and I really do not want to be the person who made the joke about your hair; the joke that really hurt you, and you still remember 20 years later.”

ThinkGive is about choosing kindness, choosing sincerity, choosing to speak your truth, and choosing to be brave. It’s about being inclusive and tolerant and generous. It’s about understanding the power of a kind word or an act of caring. And it’s about inspiring young people to make those same choices again, and again, and again as they carve out their own paths through life.

Today we should celebrate Dr. King, the icon and the ideals. But let’s also celebrate the many small yet brave actions and decisions he made along the way that paved the way to making history—and that, importantly, are all within our power to emulate.