By Rosalie Tirella
For the MLK Jr. holiday I’m posting my favorite MLK speech, “live”: YOUR LIFE’S BLUEPRINT. King delivered it to a school auditorium filled with junior high students. In Philly, before his big event, The Freedom Festival, for their parents – a fundraiser to be held in the Spectrum, complete with Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte and all our other iconic Black American artists and civil rights champions. King was introduced by a Black kid with glasses; the school camera-kid drops his camera for a second and MLK disappears for a second! MLK congratulates their “fine” teachers and joked about being a long-winded preacher. He had already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but this speech is better than that august acceptance speech. …
… This speech, though around 20 minutes long, is major – true, real and filled with love for Black kids. Not a one-off. Not a small speech given to regular kids, in a regular school, with regular teachers. Nope. It – like King – SOARS. Black kids during the Civil Rights movement in the tumultuous 1960s needed to hear this speech – we all do, today. Now more than ever!
I love MLK’s writing here: so kid-friendly and focused: “Stay in school!” he tells the students, 12, 13 and 14 years old. Love yourself! Celebrate your face, body and skin color!: “I have good hair,” King says to the kids, pointing to his hair, “and it’s as good as anybody else’s hair in the world!” 🌺MLK’s speech is so direct. He tell his young audience: “ALWAYS FEEL THAT YOU COUNT…THAT YOU HAVE WORTH. … Doors of opportunity are opening to you that were not open to your mothers and fathers.”
And it’s poetic, filled with love. We’re treated to MLK metaphors and similies that transcend boring junior high school auditoriums, the study hall setting where students snap gum and doze off. Be Shakespeare!! he tells the students. Be a lone hero!!! Be Booker T. Washington!!! Be George Washington Carver!!! Be an opera singer!!!…Stay in school, no matter how hard the journey. Be somebody! And if you grow up to become a street sweeper, “Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry!” Can’t be “the pine on the top of the hill”? Be a terrific little scrub! “If you can’t be the sun, be a star!” he says, looking like a star.
It all happens through principles of determination, excellence, aspiration … and, most and best of all, the transformational power of LOVE: “Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low that you hate them,” MLK says.