Happy Birthday to Me!

Birthdays for me have always been celebratory. From my time as a curly-headed grinning youngster, to my memorable 21st, 40th and 50th birthdays. They’ve always been special.

Today’s celebration is also reflective, A look back, over the journey of things seen, lessons learned, and paths crossed.

I’ve jokingly talked about the uniqueness of this birthday. I’ve said to friends, “Think about it, President Barack Obama’s Inauguration, Martin Luther King’s Holiday and my birthday all falling on the same day.” Wow!

Do I feel special? Yes I do.

A beneficiary of Dr. King’s legacy and a forerunner to President Obama’s “he’s the first African American,” to do this experience, my reflection leads me back down history’s path. True history and truth are the scorekeepers for legacies. They record who is right and who is wrong.

Dr. King more than “having a dream” ushered in changes in social and economic morality in the United States. His sermons and speeches resonate today as moral, guideposts for ethics and character.

Annually, I read from A Testament Of Hope, The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King. The book, an inspiring work is a collection of King’s speeches on nonviolence, civil disobedience, and social policy. My favorite is The Drum Major Instinct, delivered from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968. The lessons are “fitness over favoritism” and “servant leadership” (“he who is greatest among you shall be the servant to all”). I have been honored to perform these words from Dr. King’s works. I can think of no higher honor.

The praise for King did not come easy. The criticism and stinging arrows were scary and led to his assassination. He was mocked, “a communist,” “a socialist,” “…he hates America.” “An outside agitator.”

Obviously, they were on the wrong side of history.

I wonder about President Obama? The personal attacks on this President have been different. Hate filled. My friends who happen to be white, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, tell me of the hate filled stories about this man that are shared with them that those same “ friends” don’t feel comfortable sharing with me. My friends tell me if they defend their points of view with intelligence and fact, the conversation becomes a treatise on” treason” and “the white race.”

George W. Bush was a bad President, most agree. His record on the economy, United States security, international relations, and other key indicators verify that. Yet there was never the personal hate this President is subjected to. Surely, if raising taxes and the deficit were the sole issue, Ronald Reagan would no longer be praised.

At a recent football reunion, two ex-teammates were somewhat embarrassed at their own words and actions as portrayed in my book Walk-On, My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University, a look at my personal sports integration of major college football. Today, they are fine gentlemen, but back then they reacted to me out of ignorance and lack of exposure. They listened to false information designed to divide people and protect economic interests. I’m sure today, it’s embarrassing.

In my presentations and speeches, I often get the audience to mentally travel along with me back to the days of southern sports integration. If they are old enough, I ask them to examine their own feelings of who they were at that time. I then ask if they would want their grandchildren to have known them back then. I ask whether they were on the right side or the wrong side of history.

Many choose to lower their eyes no longer willing to make eye contact, their action a telltale giveaway to their answer. I imagine it’s not a comforting feeling to know that you were wrong, because of your own ignorance and your own unwillingness or laziness in searching out the truth.

Finally and for my birthday, ask yourself this question; Thirty years from now, will you have been on the right side or the wrong side of history? Will you be able to look those who come behind you in the eye or will you lower your eyes in shame?

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