“Not everyone can be famous but, everyone can be great.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Change is hard. I am not a huge fan of change (as evidenced by my lingering resistance to moving from Illinois to Texas nearly six months ago) because whether the change comes in the form of a new job or moving to a new city, there is usually an enormous upheaval involved. Often, change is the result of a difficult or tumultuous time in the life of a person, family, organization or a society that can no longer function efficiently in its current state. Change interrupts schedules, resets routines and old, familiar favorite stomping grounds are left by the wayside. Admittedly, after all is said and done and the dust settles, usually the change is for the good. It’s just really uncomfortable getting there. Dare I say that most of us, to varying degrees, feel the same way that I do. However, there are people whom I believe are put on this earth to effect significant change. It’s their calling to be a “Change Agent”.
The 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Initially, it was not a popular move. The United States was engaged in a Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy and things were not going well for the North. President Lincoln believed that slavery was morally wrong but, recognized that even among his fellow Northerners, most did not want to interfere with the practice of owning slaves. Ultimately, in addition to it being a moral issue for him, it was a brilliant tactical strategy in fighting the war. Once the President freed the slaves (the directive was only issued to states in the Confederacy, Northern slave states were not affected), all of the free labor that the south had been enjoying for so many years eventually vanished, making it harder for the Confederacy to fund and focus on fighting a war. The war ended two years later with a Union Victory and an end to slavery. Abraham Lincoln was a Change Agent.
Anwar Sadat, the 3rd President of Egypt from October 1970 until his assassination in October 1981, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on March 26, 1979. The two had negotiated and signed the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty after many years of fighting over land and recognition. Prior to signing the peace treaty, Sadat had been instrumental in reclaiming (through a war) land that had previously been lost to Israel. However, his subsequent negotiations with Israel and change of heart regarding Egypt’s political position on Israeli relations made him unpopular among his people and fellow Arab nations . While he felt a moral obligation to change the tone of their interactions, once saying “Peace is much more precious than a piece of land…let there be no more wars,” many did not share the same sentiment and it ultimately led to his assassination by fundamentalist army officers. Anwar Sadat was a Change Agent.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate the life of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King is a symbol of change that took place during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. King galvanized a movement that pressed on this nation’s leaders to bring about change to the plight of African-Americans, the poor and the otherwise disenfranchised. In the mid 50’s, as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King gained notoriety in the civil rights movement by organizing a bus boycott in that city, lasting 382 days. This boycott was instrumental in the United States Supreme Court later declaring bus segregation unconstitutional. From there he pressed on organizing what is now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and assisting in non-violent community protests against discrimination. Through it all, Dr. King, and his supporters, endured violent harassment from regular citizens as well as authorities. They were beaten, arrested, sprayed with fire hoses, their homes were bombed and yet, he pressed on. He fought for fair hiring practices and desegregation of department store facilities. He led voter’s registration rallies and sought adequate housing for the poor. For his efforts, he was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 1963 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Yet, as he received accolades from around the world, he faced bitter resistance right here at home because, as I stated before, change is hard.
He was a gifted speaker, able to inspire and create hope through his words. Although I was only two years old when he died, some of his words were indelibly imprinted on my mind, like probably most of you. They live on in American history just like the words to the preamble of the Constitution or the Gettysburg Address. I am quite sure that I am not the only person who remembers excerpts of these pieces because they are so beautifully written. The thing is, while he was most certainly a talented orator and could bring a crowd to tears with his words, his actions, because they were so sincere and in line with his spoken message, could cause an avalanche of human power to create change. People wanted to be a part of that movement not only because the time that they were living in called for a change to their circumstances but, also because Dr. King was that man to propel them forward, to bring about that change. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Change Agent.
Now, these were three men who during their lifetimes possessed leadership ability, political prowess, and sometimes charisma to affect the masses. However, I believe that we all are able to bring about positive change in our own lives and in the lives of people around us. It may not be on a scale as large as the a fore mentioned men but, it doesn’t need to be. Change can start at home by teaching your children the importance of good global citizenship. Teach them that they are not the center of the universe and that we are our brother’s (literal and otherwise) keeper. You can be a part of change in your community by volunteering at local food banks, after school tutoring programs, and other community based volunteer organizations. As a nation, we are only as strong as our weakest link and it costs absolutely nothing to reach out and encourage, teach or otherwise mentor another person. Change can put you in uncomfortable surroundings. Maybe, you have to step outside of your comfort zone, what ever that is, to be a Change Agent for someone else. Maybe you will have to venture into a neighborhood that you would not usually go to. Or maybe you would have to befriend someone who you wouldn’t normally talk to. you never know what kind of blessing you can be to someone unless you try. More importantly, you never know what kind of blessing that they can be to you.
So, go forth and seek to make change. Stretch yourself…be uncomfortable…be a Change Agent!