Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Pathetic Leadership of ME


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“You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.” ~Malcolm X

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remember when you were a little kid? You really and truly knew and deeply understood right from wrong. Somewhere along the line, your experiences, parents, education and biases took hold. But for a brief and shining moment, you were a GENUINE person: completely unconcerned with the opinion of the world. You knew, in your heart of hearts, that ALL people matter. Most of you were conditioned through traditional education to dispel this truth. Yet YOU, yes you, have always known that there is more to this world than what you have been taught in your little world or in school. You want to make a difference, but you don’t know how, or have been discouraged from doing so in the past. Well, stick out your tongue and tell the world, “I’m a speck, but you WILL feel my power!

I am but a speck on the time line of humanity. Humbling, to say the least. But lately I’ve been wondering, what should I be doing with this morsel of time I’ve been allotted…never knowing when I shall be recalled. Am I honoring my briefest of moments in a manner worthy of the opportunity?

I recall a course from college. I was not taking it seriously for various reasons. I did not find my professor “worthy” of his title (my chutzpah had many sources). The assignment I recall was after our reading of By Any Means Necessary, by Malcolm X. We were put into groups, required to give a presentation. At the time, I was experiencing some personal difficulties and did not have the time nor desire to meet with my group. Needless to say, they quickly labeled me a slacker. I attended the “you have to attend this meeting or we will kill you” meetings in preparation for our presentation, but no other.

On the day of our presentation, my group looked at me with hostility. My thought: “You just completed an assignment. Booyah for you.” There were four students per group, and my group told me I’d be last, summarizing their major points. In my estimation, they figured I’d listen to their presentations and have the wherewithal to put their effort into summary formation. Chutzpah or not, as I listened I considered their one-sided, upper-middle class bias of a tremendous human being who lost his life for standing up for humanity. They were giving a book report. His “speck” deserved so much more.

My turn. I compared the writings, speeches and approach taken by Malcolm X to that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were each brilliant, courageous, resolute, bold-spirited and valiant beyond words. Their stance was different, but their message was similar. My group was astounded. How dare I change the assignment! This was not a comparison between two leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr wasn’t even mentioned in the syllabus. Oh the humanity!

I didn’t care. How can you talk about one without the other? Education should make you THINK, not make you a robot. My goal was to compare the diverse approaches to leadership, to social inequities, to blatant racism and pure ignorance. I could give a flying “F” about a book report. I lived in Detroit in the late ’60’s and early 70’s. MEMORY: A young black man being chained to a street sign, beaten by a group of white teenagers. I was six years old as my parents took action. How could I not comprehend the need for differing approaches to leadership by the time I was a junior in college?! To note, none of my group members complained when we received the highest grade for stepping “outside the confines of the assignment.”

Leadership platitudes are nice, comfy and easy to retweet. But pathetic little me wants more. I cannot stand in the shadow of the character, wisdom or fortitude of the leaders that stood before me…marking their place in history, paving a road I am honored to travel upon. I am not worthy of their mark in history. However, I’ll be damned if I don’t take their lead and stand up for equity despite it’s unpopularity.

Kelly and I founded this company to challenge the status quo, to do the right thing when it’s the right thing to do and to never back down in the face of adversity. Look around my friends…adversity is blossoming. People are suffering. Propaganda is flourishing. I’m one small voice, one speck, please…PLEASE, tell us what you are willing to do to extend yourself to others, to lessen their burden, to become a light in the darkness. Opinions make a lovely garden…facts make a sustainable world. Care to raise your glass and make your own toast to courage?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jen Kuhn
Jennifer Kuhn is a talented, energetic and enthusiastic consultant, trainer and speaker. She has provided thousands of employees, coaches and executives with guidance while they work to enhance their professional skill development. Jen's approach has been hailed by participants who were initially skeptical or resistant. Her unique and non-threatening style wins over the most jaded employee that allows them to learn and grow within their organization.


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