Learning from King and Shriver on this Historic Day

“Martin Luther King rose on the American scene like a star in the night when he led thousands of Americans in the Montgomery bus boycott. They were ‘voting’ for full human rights with their feet.”
Sargent Shriver | New York, NY | June 10, 1964

Our Quote of the Week allows us to see the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through the eyes of Sargent Shriver. Today we honor Dr. King, who was born on January 15, 1929, and whose life we celebrate on this Martin Luther King Day. We also remember Sargent Shriver, who passed away on this day in 2011 at the age of 95. These two servant leaders are emblematic of an era that may be far in the past, but that can teach us valuable lessons about service, justice, civil and human rights.

In 1964, Sargent Shriver delivered the New York University Commencement, from which these words are taken. At the time, he was leading both Peace Corps and the War on Poverty. He spoke about Dr. King in connection to the “politics of service”, tying together the push for basic rights for all humans with the notion of peacebuilding.

King and Shriver had very different backgrounds and different paths in life, but they had several key things in common, and in many ways, the work of one complemented that of the other. They were both deeply spiritual, and were, each in their own way, moved to serve others out of deep devotion to their Christian beliefs. They were both dynamic and gifted communicators, a trait that allowed them to be very influential. And they both, at different times in their lives, fought staunchly for the rights of workers, of the poor, of Black Americans and of other marginalized groups. They both spoke out against the war in Vietnam.

It could also be argued that some of the differences between the two men only served to strengthen their common causes. King was able to work from outside the systems of political power of the time, and as a Black leader, was able to organize within Black communities on an increasingly larger scale over the late 1950s into the early 60s. And Shriver effected change within the halls of political power in Washington. As a well-known public figure in the 1960s, he also challenged his predominantly White and privileged audiences in his many public addresses, asking them to confront their racial biases, and thereby acting as an ally to the civil rights movement.

The current moment presents us with a tremendous opportunity to continue the work of these two leaders, no matter our background. Let us challenge systems, from within and from without. Let us protest. Let us collaborate, and work for intersectionality. If we witness oppression, violence, or discrimination, let us speak up. If we are in positions of privilege or power, let us listen and let us be part of solutions designed by people who are affected by the problems in our communities. Let us do all these things now, and let us keep doing them. If we work together, we can transform our hearts, our communities, our country, and our world.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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