Religious and secular leaders frequently begin each New Year seeking to inspire hope and goals of excellence in our youth. With the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. being celebrated in January, he and his speeches are often and appropriately used to achieve these noble goals.
King used the example of a street sweeper aspiring to be the best of all street sweepers with the application for every person, regardless of the greatness or humility of their employment, to strive to be the best of their profession or work.
“Six months before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967. Part of his What Is Your Life’s Blueprint? speech is the tale of the street sweeper,” recalls motivational blogger Sam Grier. “It is inspiration that regardless of what we do we should always aspire to be the best we can at what we do.”
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry,” King said. “He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
We have some great examples of individuals who benefitted from King’s words of inspiration. Some have achieved much success right into retirement. Ed Welburn, vice president of General Motors Global Design is one such individual. At an early age, he wanted to design automobiles for a major automobile company. He wrote to General Motors and received a reply urging him to prepare by attending an automobile design school after high school. A list of such schools were included with the letter. Welburn applied and applied and applied but was rejected because no African Americans had been accepted before. However, Howard University agreed to expand its design school to include automobile design and accepted him as the first student.
Upon graduation, Welburn secured an internship at GM. He is now retiring after 44 years with General Motors where he was a part of the great recovery for American-made automobiles following the great recession of 2008.
Bill Pretzer, curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture has commented that “Welburn’s family was in many ways typical of their time, determined to move up the economic ladder. There’s a phrase in many African-American communities called ‘making a way out of no way.’ … If confronted with obstacles you still find a way. And this was a family that consistently found a way to make a way out of no way.”
Others will continue to hear of Dr. King’s challenges to excel and will continue to “make a way out of no way.” Another such person also contributed significantly to the recovery of the American automobile industry. He is retiring, not from the automotive industry but from the Presidency of the United States of America. President Barack Obama continues to inspire millions. The challenge of adults today is the same as it was during Dr. King’s day: inspire hope and goals of excellence in our youth our total population, in general.
Some may become auto designers and some may become presidents of institutions, corporations, or the United States. Some inspiring successes may include the recovery of major industries or some of the achievements by country presidents. But this is not about the achievements of presidents. It is about the dreams of our youth which must be expanded with ambitious, realistic, hope that can break through the restrictions of negativity and discouragement.
But this is not about the achievements of presidents. It is about the dreams of our youth which must be expanded with ambitious, realistic, hope that can break through the restrictions of negativity and discouragement.
“Dear youth, what is the aim and purpose of your life? Are you ambitious for education that you may have a name and position in the world? Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day stand upon the summit of intellectual greatness; that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. You may every one of you make your mark. You should be content with no mean attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard.” (E.G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p.82)
What can a young person reasonably dream of doing? One gentleman who was a baby in 1961 and a teenager 40 years ago achieved much by any standards. He is Barack Obama. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, he was educated at Punahou Academy, Columbia University, Occidental College and Harvard Law School. His awards are innumerable. He continued upward from lawyer, United States Senator all the way to President.
During the early months of the year 2017, as we celebrate the King Holiday and Black History Month, we cannot repeat too often that these achievements are possible. Never give up.