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Self-Sacrifice and the Leadership of MLK

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By Tom Konecny

As a Baptist minister, it’s no surprise that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. loved music and singing. It started at an early age when his mother was a talented organist and choir leader who took young Martin to different churches to sing. He received attention for regularly singing the popular Gospel hymn, “I Want to Be More and More Like Jesus.”

That song was a metaphor for his life, and he already knew his mission at a very youthful age. King demonstrated it through self-sacrifice, and believed in giving one’s self to help another. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his death, and such a milestone gives cause for reflection.

The event that catapulted King into the national spotlight was the 385-day Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. With that historic boycott, King helped to advance civil rights through nonviolent means, tactics that Mahatma Gandhi helped to inspire in him. He reminded a city – and a nation – that racial segregation needed to be addressed.

But King wasn’t initially on board with the boycott and was at odds with himself. Only 26 years old at the time, he was concerned that the idea could be deemed unethical, perhaps even un-Christian. If the boycott were to shut own buses, he pondered, that would rob other riders of a service they needed and take away a living from drivers. It almost seemed like revenge.

“I came to see that what we were really doing was withdrawing our cooperation from an evil system, rather than merely withdrawing our support from the bus company,” he wrote in his own autobiography. “The bus company, being an external expression of the system, would naturally suffer, but the basic aim was to refuse to cooperate with evil.”

King didn’t meet this conclusion completely on his own merit. It took countless hours of listening to others, and sharpening his leadership skills by knowing that his ideas didn’t have to be his own or original. He took cues and advice from others to help shape his beliefs. Doing so made him extraordinarily empathetic to the point that he had a strong understanding of both sides of the argument. And he put his mission ahead of his own comfort, once having his home bombed by detractors.

Today we see athletes, coaches, entertainers and others in positions of power get into trouble, only to abandon their beliefs and do or say nearly anything just to keep their position. King went to jail rather than abandon his beliefs, proving that self-sacrifice is an effective way, as King would sing, to be more and more like Jesus.

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