He is infamous for his oratory prowess, his leadership and connection to the civil rights movement, steadfast adherence to non-violent protests, and unwavering faith.
Today many, will quote portions of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream,” here in its entirety , which he delivered during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. With all the horrific injustice and violence that was perpetrated against Black Americans he still believed in the possibility of equity and inclusion. Whilst most will focus on the above speech, Dr. King had a vast catalog of speeches and other writings. I encourage you to read the following sample “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” “The Other America” “The Three Evils.” “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” And “Paul's Letter to American Christians.”
Another writing, “The Drum Major Instinct” is a sermon Dr King preached on February 4, 1968, two months before he was murdered. He began with a reading from Mark chapter 10 verse 35. Where, Jacob (James) and John request a favor of Jesus. He then asked what it was. “They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory." Mark10:37 KJV
Jesus responded, “…You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Mark 19:39,40 NIV
Upon hearing this exchange the remaining disciples immediately became annoyed with James and John. They too wanted to be seated with Jesus and felt that the other two were using their familial ties with Jesus to leapfrog over them. James and John misunderstanding of discipleship led them to an erroneous assumption that the kingdom Jesus always referred to would be created on earth. Their request of Jesus was as if you or I were seeking a high-level position in the government which we had not gained enough experience for. In other words, their request was more selfish seeking instead of selfish service. They mistakenly thought that Christian life was about seeking distinction and greatness. They did not realize that enduring self-denial, self-risk and humble service for the redemption of the world as Jesus demanded was the true path to heaven.
Viewing the disciple's irritation and confusion, Jesus convened them. He told them that everyone, even the son of man desired to minister and not be ministered. So, it is not wrong that man, desires to lead not be led or distinction not obscurity. In other words, we all want to be drum majors.
Dr. King emphasized in his sermon the importance of reordering one's priorities as the true path to distinction and greatness by being “first in love.” This meant using our drum major instinct for the right priorities — serving others, fighting for justice, peace and economic equality.
Paraphrased from his sermon in Atlanta, the full quote is "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace, I was a drum major for righteousness, and all the other shallow things will not matter."
May we all desire to be drum majors for economic equity, justice, peace and righteousness.