Dr. King’s 1963 Call-To-Action in Kalamazoo

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has long inspired me with his leadership and commitment to principled action even during times of crisis and uncertainty. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that, in one of the darkest hours in American history, he met the moment head on not far from where I live and work in Michigan.

The words he spoke on the night of December 18, 1963 at Western Michigan University in nearby Kalamazoo served as a powerful call to action, then and now.

In 1963, just a month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. King took to the stage as the first speaker in a series of lectures focused on the “Conscience of America.”

One statement in particular captures my attention. In concluding remarks, he said:

Sometimes we must in history take an evil situation and wring the good out of it.

When you read the word wring, do you feel your hands automatically start to clinch? Do you find in your arms the full-body strength to pull and push with everything you have? In one word — just five letters and one syllable — Dr. King tells us what we need to do.

Grab tight. Don’t let go. Get the good. This is not hand wringing. As he did many times before and afterwards, Dr. King flipped the script. He found and redirected the positive necessary for moving forward.

If he had faith then that good still existed and could be extracted with enough concentrated effort, we owe it to the example he set to keep trying and build on his example today.

As I’ve noted, I’m in full agreement that Martin Luther King Day is a day on, not a day off. As we honor and remember Dr. King through our actions today, my hope is we continue strengthening our resolve to find the good in the moment and extend it to others so all may benefit.

Transcript of Speech: