April 4 marked 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thousands gathered in Memphis to honor Dr. King’s legacy. King was a catalyst for change. But each generation must take up the call for justice. Here are three important reminders to help us live the true justice legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1. You are never too young, or old, to leave a justice legacy.
The memorial to Dr. King makes him a giant. I seem tiny in comparison from a photo from a recent trip with my son to DC to advocate for Dreamers. Each person must ask themselves, King’s profound question – “what are you doing for others?”
Dr. King was only 24 when he determined to no longer stand idly on the sidelines. By age 26 he was leading the Montgomery bus boycott. By age 35 he received a Nobel Peace Prize. No wonder we make him into a giant. But he wasn’t. Dr. King rolled out of bed each morning the same as you and I. Bathed in prayer, he made a conscious daily choice to do something to improve the lives of others.
Service is greatness
Dr. King said plainly, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.” A life of service is a life of humility. A life of service is marked by compassion and concern for others. A life of service looks to the needs of others, instead of seeking to accumulate wealth and power for self.
I was a slow starter. My wealth and power in a law practice that had my name first, distracted me from the needs of my neighbor. I missed the opportunity to help them. I take comfort from my co-founder of Gospel Justice Initiative. John Robb was in his 70’s when he recognized the church and Christian lawyers had missed the opportunity to do justice through legal aid ministry. In his late 80’s he joined me in laying the foundation to change that.
You are never too young or too old to use your time, talent and treasure to leave a justice legacy.
2. True justice legacy is rooted in Jesus
Dr. King’s legacy is a deep concern for justice for all. He is known as an advocate for civil rights, but those rights extended beyond race as he fought for equality in work and wages for all people. King’s ideas were deeply rooted in the Bible. His Letter from a Birmingham jail is perhaps the best defense of natural law ever written because King believed just laws flow from a just God.
Dr. King was an American Baptist pastor. I’m proud to be the son of an American Baptist pastor. I was raised to believe strongly in the equality of all who are made in the image of God. This core belief drove everything Dr. King did and to strip him from his faith is to destroy the fabric of his work.
A few years ago, Helen and I were honored to receive the Martin Luther King, Jr. humanitarian award. Perhaps you’ve seen the poster Helen is standing next to with the quote, “When your character is built on spiritual and moral foundation, your contagious way of life will influence millions.” I believe this. Do you?
If you ask our family what makes a Strom, we will answer “Service”. We will say service deeply reflects Jesus’ life and command to love our neighbor. We believe true service is not about us, but how we can help others and this service must be built on spiritual and moral foundation.
Honoring volunteer service
This weekend I attended Administer Justice’s volunteer breakfast. This event recognizes the humble, compassionate service of hundreds of volunteers impacting lives trapped in legal injustice every year. You can’t get rid of a founder, but I was present as a volunteer. I continue to regularly meet with neighbors to help free them from legal burdens.
The event is a reminder of the impact we can have when we step out in faith in the service of others. I met a woman who drives an hour every week to bring fresh baked goods and assist clients in need because she encountered a book called Gospel Justice and a verse – Jeremiah 21:12. One lawyer gave a powerful testimony of his conviction while a college student sitting in chapel hearing me speak. He went on to become a lawyer and regularly volunteers with Administer Justice. He wisely said the conviction was not based on my eloquence, but on an example of service used by the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction.
People can always challenge our words, but they cannot challenge a life well lived in the service of others. You only get one life – make it count. Spend your life in the service of the least of these knowing one day you will hear the only voice of justice that matters – “Well done good and faithful servant.”
3. Justice legacy points to the future
You’ve seen the famous photo of people pointing from the balcony where King was shot. They were pointing at injustice. They were pointing at the shooter. King always pointed people toward a beloved community. He pointed them toward justice. He pointed past the darkness to the stars. His Mountaintop Speech delivered the night before his death looked forward. He chose not to live in the past, but look to the future. King reminded us of the Good Samaritan, who though a different race, could not pass by a fellow member of the human race. He reflected on almost losing his life, but how God spared him for a purpose.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
Fifty years later we still look to that promised land. Every student who refuses to live with the status quo on guns and says, enough is enough. Each Dreamer who refuses to be judged on the basis of something they did not do. Every lawyer who refuses to accept that every second someone is turned away from legal assistance making America 96th in the world for providing affordable access to justice.
Continue your justice legacy at Restore 117
I have a Pastor friend who energizes people to work toward the beloved community. Harvey Carey is pastor of Citadel of Faith in Detroit. He has Dr. King’s oratorical gift. I strongly encourage you to meet him at Restore 117 on Friday night, June 8. Join others who are tired of injustice and dare to believe in a better future. Become informed on issues of #metoo, immigration, mass incarceration, human trafficking and more from legal experts on the front lines. Early bird pricing ends April 15 so register now. Let’s build justice communities together taking to heart the words of Dr. King:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”