Monday, Jan. 16, is the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service — a “Day On, Not a Day Off,” in the United States. King advocated for nonviolent resistance to overcome injustice as a means of lifting racial oppression. King was actually born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta.
According to the United States Marine Corps Administrative Message authorized by Lt. Gen. James F. Glynn on Jan. 6, 2023, “Since proclaimed … in 1983, the third Monday of January commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national day of service. …”
The message explained, “Dr. King was an influential civil rights activist whose contributions helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965. Dr. King was … the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. King’s message of recognizing and celebrating the content of our character resonates with us today.
“As Marines … [it is important for] us to foster equity in the force by ensuring equal treatment, access, advancement, and opportunity for all Marines. … Our Marine Corps is committed to living the values we defend and treating everyone with dignity and respect. …”
King is one of the world’s best-known advocates of nonviolent social change strategies. He first burst on the national leadership scene on Dec. 5, 1955, five days after Rosa Parks refused to obey bus segregation rules.
King had a great impact on our nation, but it didn’t come easily. King encountered strong criticism from militant leaders, abuse from established leaders and conflict among members of his own organization. Despite these conflicts, King remained committed to the use of nonviolent techniques.
In the leadership lessons provided in Paul’s first letter to Timothy of Ephesus, an early Christian evangelist and the first Christian bishop of Ephesus — a small town in western Turkey, known today as Selcuk — Paul addressed the leadership challenges Timothy faced. No matter how often you read the First Book of Timothy in the Bible, it’s hard to love folks who are in your face or trying to stab you in the back, and yet King was steadfast in his commitments.
The First Book of Timothy, Chapter 3, verses 1-12 lists the qualities that a potential leader must possess. In essence what Paul was trying to convey in these passages is that a man who desires to be a leader must show self-control, honesty and good management in the other aspects of his life, the same qualities that King exhibited in his pursuit of racial and social justice from 1955 to1968.
Chapter 4 of First Timothy explains that spiritual discipline leads to an increased ability to lead by example. Paul stressed the importance of Timothy’s actions reinforcing his teaching and that Timothy must work harder to train his mind and heart. It is in Chapter 5 that Paul explains the procedure for confronting an elder with a complaint against him.
So, fast forward to the 1950s and 1960s in the United States and ask yourself, “How did an American of humble roots rise to take such a prominent place in American history?” King brought about change at a moment in American history when being an advocate for change was not popular. In fact, it could be deadly. In the face of the enemies of change, he remained firm in his convictions.
Leadership is often promoting change by leading the community to a place where it may not understand it needs to go in an era when petty politics is all about figuring out whom to co-opt, malign and blame. A leader like King used his power to forge a solution that involved mutual respect, love and understanding. Resolving social and economic problems enhances the strength and stability of a community. Our families and community cannot prosper if society fails.
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It is important to study history, not to go back to the past, but to bring the lessons of the past to the present. The lessons of the past often give us the confidence to persevere.
In Westminster, we have our own great leaders who have worked hard in the face of enormous obstacles to fight human injustice. These were folks and institutions who brought about positive change in our community and provided us with the foundation on which we have built today’s quality of life.
Western Maryland College — now McDaniel College — led the way and took a leadership position for positive social change and intellectual leadership in helping desegregate Westminster. Visionaries such as Ira Zepp, Del Palmer, Charles Crain, Bill David, Sam Case, Wray Mowbray and Robert and Phyllis Scott were critical players in bringing racial diversity to the college and Westminster.
In the 1950s, the African American athletes on the Baltimore Colts participating in summer practices on The Hill provided an important impetus for desegregation in Westminster.
The combination of lessons from the Book of Timothy and the Marine Corps is not happenstance. I was first introduced to the study of leadership in Timothy by a nonreligious Vietnam War combat veteran in 1972. The Marine sergeant obviously, colorfully, provided a leadership lesson that has stood the test of time.
Putting together King and the Book of Timothy was facilitated by Ira Zepp in an after-class discussion at McDaniel College. I have studied and written about the leadership of King for decades. Some of this discussion has been published before.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.