Lately I’ve been studying people whose names live on longer than they do, people of greatness. This notion that your legacy, your reputation, your namesake, your gifts living on much longer than you do. There are some who qualify for this list based on how they’ve changed the entire world. You know their names, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Edison, John F. Kennedy, Anne Frank, Steve Jobs. Then there are those who are still living who will make this list, Berry Gordy, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Viola Davis, Jimmy Carter. Each person listed has had, or will have great influence over generations of people. They are associated with some major intersection in time when they inserted their gifts into the earth and we were all changed from them.
As I compiled this list something happened that I hadn’t intended. The list of world changers who have passed away is different from the list of the great ones still living in one very specific and prominent way. The top list is 99% Caucasian, the second list was 99% people of color. Now obviously neither of these lists are a complete representation of people of greatness, but there’s something to be said about this. The difference in these lists speaks to the prominence of the person who inspired this writing in the first place. He is that intersection in time, he is our before and after. He is the moment in time when the first steps were taken for all people to walk through opportunity’s gates. That person is Dr. Martin Luther King. As world changer Viola Davis said during her Emmy winning speech, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity.” This is true of all people of color, true of all areas of industry. Opportunity is the one required ingredient for achievement. Dr. King gave opportunity, simply, profoundly.
Before there was a Martin Luther King there would have never been an opportunity for any person of color to make any influential list. The gifts would have been possessed but would have never been given the opportunity to shine from their segregated quarters. The real world changers are those who came and lived among us leaving their mark whereby all those who follow will no longer know what life was before they came.
Today we celebrate Dr King. Because he lived and chose to offer his gifts with us, the exposure of and offering of greatness is no longer segregated. We are not only living his dream, but we can step out and live our own.