Martin Luther King Jr. is arguably one of the most notable leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. After all, he has a holiday named after him. He, along with many other activists, fought hard for equal rights for the black community in America. The treatment of black people in America has at times been very bleak and remains a complicated issue. Since I am not qualified to share insight about this complex history, I hope to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day in another way. To pay homage to the struggles of a people, I would like to share some of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quotes and help us explore them using a mental-health lens. MLK’s inspirational words carry important messages relevant to everyone fighting through struggles. His words highlight the importance of looking toward the future with a vision of hope and optimism, while taking the time to acknowledge the need for change and growth.
I have composed prompts to guide our exploration of a few selected quotations. As you read the following quotes, consider what the quotations mean to you and then think about the historical context surrounding MLK’s message.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk,
if you can’t walk then crawl,
but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
- Think of a time when you felt surrounded by darkness. Acknowledge your pain as real and valid. How did you find the light?
- Identify a person who loves you. How has that person’s support aided you through difficulties?
- Take a moment to acknowledge that racism exists in American culture. Consider one way that you can infuse the situation with light/love.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
- Explore what stops you from achieving your goals. Think about how to break down your goals into manageable tasks.
- What (small) steps can you take toward attaining your dreams? Commit to taking action, regardless of obstacles.
“I have a dream that my four little chi1dren 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. – Martin Luther King Jr.
- Think about the historical reality that prompted MLK to utter these words.
- Reflect on your own racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural identity. How do you view people from differing racial backgrounds?
- Consider the relevance of peers’ personal integrity in choosing friendships and relationships. What character traits do you value?
Martin Luther King Jr. showed himself to be an impressive orator. Words have immense power to communicate directly with the souls of individuals. Therefore, we should remember that communication is an important step in connecting with ourselves and others. The need for dialogue about both mental health and racial issues cannot be ignored.
Happy Martin Luther King Day!
By Miriam Rollhaus, LCSW