It's amazing how simple a world-altering opportunity can be, as simple as sitting down.
With the October death of Rosa Parks at the age of 92, we were reminded how her refusal to adhere to the racist bus-seating rules of Montgomery, Al., in 1955 gave birth the Civil Rights Movement. This ordinary act also gave rise to one of our country's most powerful leaders, Martin Luther King Jr.
The 27-year-old reverend emerged as a leader of the bus boycott that grew from Parks' civil disobedience. While he helped organize carpools for Montgomery's black population, King showed his community, and his country, how to walk the talk of protesting the right to live a peaceful and respected life.
This was not easy to do, for his peaceful protests were often met with violence. Four black churches were firebombed by white segregationists, and a shotgun was fired through the front door of King's home, which was also bombed. However, the persistence and courage of King, Parks and the rest of Montgomery's black community paid off when the Supreme Court outlawed segregation on the local bus line in 1956, a crucial step on America's long walk to racial harmony.
King is a national hero honored for fighting against racism, wherever it occurred in our society, while standing up for social justice. He risked his life speaking truth to power and rallied others to do the same, no matter how much it shook the foundations of the status quo.
However, King was not a superhero untouched by the conflicts and inner strife that come from the common experiences of family commitments, household obligations and work. This is an important distinction for us to make, for the actions of superheroes seem impossible for ordinary people to accomplish, let alone attempt.
The popular maxim that, "faith without works is dead" accurately describes King's life while helping us realize we have a lot in common with the man and his time. Overt segregation may be gone, but many of the issues King fought against have remained unchanged and seemingly intractable.
King lived in a war-torn era that eerily echoes ours, where an unjust war is draining our country dry and isolating us on the world stage, our leaders in Washington are being exposed for corruption, our president has authorized (and defended) spying on American citizens without judicial or congressional approval or oversight and poverty is rampant.
With these grim facts in mind, on Monday, Jan. 16, let's try something a bit different when we remember King on his birthday. Let's move beyond the mesmerizing poetry of his speeches and look at the circumstances that inspired and the actions that followed his words.
While the arc of his life was cut short by an assassin's bullet on April 4, 1968, the lessons of his actions continue to thrive when we use them as blueprints for our own efforts to create just, peaceful and respectful communities. We only have to seize the simple opportunities to act in our homes and neighborhoods.