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On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, an assassin's bullet brought an abrupt end to the life of Martin Luther King Jr. That was 50 years ago, and since that time, we have continued to grapple with how our society will exhibit Christian virtues in our dealings with one another.

If we studied the speeches and the sermons delivered by King, and if we sought to apply what he taught in the spirit in which he spoke, it would go a long way towards bringing about peaceful living during today's tumultuous times.

Often after a prominent person is gone, people will seek to use him or her for their own purposes.

In the example of King, there have always been people who say what he would approve of or what he would not.

And in the process, they sometimes put words in the mouth of a person who can no longer communicate with us for himself.

It is far better to study what a person actually said than to speculate on what he might say if he were with us today.

And in King's case, the primary resources are there in great abundance.

In his "I have a dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C., King inspired millions of Americans across the nation, and his words have continued to resonate throughout the last five decades.

"I have a dream," he said, "that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

It is most appropriate for us to commemorate King's legacy in our homes and in our schools. What did he mean by the words "content of their character?" How can we help our children and help each other understand the importance of that statement?

Many times today, the public dialogue focuses on the color of skin but has very little emphasis on the content of one's character.

In addition, King should be remembered not only because he helped America move in the direction of social freedom for all, and not only because he emphasized the importance of a person's character, but also because he taught how one should simply approach life.

His sermon entitled "Shattered Dreams" is a good example.

He began that message by saying that very few of us ever get to see life's dreams fulfilled as we had imagined.

"The hopes of our childhood," he said, "and the promises of our mature years, are unfinished symphonies."

"Shattered dreams," King said, "are a hallmark of our mortal life."

He explained how to deal with shattered dreams, disappointments, interrupted plans, hardships, difficulties and setbacks.

It was a message appropriate for the times and one that is still appropriate today because it is grounded in real life and deals with issues that life may throw our way.

So how do we deal with such difficulty?

King said we can't allow frustrations to make us bitter or resentful, nor can we withdraw into our own world and become detached from everything else.

Responding wrongly to a shattered dream can poison one's entire outlook.

"The answer," he said, "lies in our willing acceptance of unwanted and unfortunate circumstances even as we still cling to a radiant hope ..."

In short, when bad things happen or when life doesn't go as we planned, King taught that we should be realistic and accepting.

He quoted from Jeremiah 10:19, which says, "... this is a grief and I must bear it."

He said a person must look at it and ask how it can be transformed into one of life's assets.

"Almost anything that happens to us," King said, "may be woven into the purposes of God."

He said a person must respond to such situations the same way that he taught oppressed Americans to respond to injustice.

"Our most fruitful course," King said, "is to stand firm with courageous determination, move forward nonviolently amid obstacles and setbacks, accept disappointments, and cling to hope."

In short, be strong. And have faith. We all need to hear that at some point in life.

• • •

David Wilson, Ed.D., of Springdale, is a former high school principal and is the communications director for the Transit and Parking Department at the University of Arkansas. His book, "Learning Every Day," is available on Amazon. He may be contacted by email at Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 04/04/2018

Print Headline: 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.

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