What is Life’s Most Persistent and Urgent Question?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a remarkable, historic civil rights leader whose wisdom and mission remain relevant in the 21st century.

I am writing this post during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, a national holiday in the United States. This occasion reminds me of when I first learned about King. I was a first-grade student when King was murdered on April 4, 1968. Until then, I had never heard of him.

When my elementary school closed for a day of mourning in King’s honor, my mother explained to me who King was, why he was important, and that he had been assassinated. Mom also had to explain to me what the word “assassination” means. Even at six-years-old, I recognized the horrific irony of killing a man who advocated non-violence, and I wept.

In 2015, the kind folks at the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Memphis Chapter invited me to speak at their conference. My hosts were gracious, and they took wonderful care of me. Knowing my interest in King, they even provided me with a ticket to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel during my extended stay. The site is where King was killed. Stepping into King’s motel room was moving. Touring the Museum was eye-opening, even for someone knowledgeable about the civil rights movement. I encourage you to visit Memphis and the Museum.

As I’ve said, King remains relevant after more than a half-century following his death. Consider this quote from King:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

It’s a great question. It’s one that those of us working in the nonprofit sector answer every day. It’s one that every person who engages in philanthropy answers with their actions.

If you can respond to King’s question in a meaningful way, you should feel proud. It may not always feel like it, but you are making a difference. You are living a life worth living. As King said:

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

“I imagine that the first question the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ The good Samaritan engaged in a dangerous altruism.” (speaking about the story of the Good Samaritan)

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase. Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

There is no denying that King was a great man. However, that does not mean he was a saint. He had his flaws as we all do. King is great because, despite his flaws, he led a meaningful life that continues to inspire people around the world. King’s example shows us that one does not have to be perfect in order to do good. As King put it:

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Let’s resolve to make every day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by embracing his message of peace, love, and action.

That’s what Michael Rosen and Martin Luther King, Jr. say… What do you say?

One Comment to “What is Life’s Most Persistent and Urgent Question?”

  1. That was a wonderful post, Michael. Thank you for writing it and for the inspiration!

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