The following reflection was given by Allison Horowitz, a member of our Youth Group, at our annual MLK worship services on Sunday, January 20, 2013. The entire service was led by our youth group. Allison (Alli) Horowitz is 16 years old. She writes, “I love that the youth group, even when my life becomes hectic, is a constant source of positive energy and friends. Right now I am looking at physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy as possible future careers. And I love kids so I am interested in a school setting with pre-school to grade school kids.”
“An Ordinary Person” by Allison Horowitz
We remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as a perfect man. A hero. A martyr. A man without faults. He was a man who used his words to speak his mind, in a time where what he was saying was controversial. He was a man who loved all people regardless. In fact, Dr. King is the ideal Unitarian Universalist: open to change and accepting to all.
It’s easy to forget that Dr. King was a normal human being filled with flaws just like the rest of us. There is a little-known story about Dr. King that illustrates that he was a man of his era. It was recently told in the film Brother Outsider.
When Dr. King was first becoming a leader in the civil rights movement, he had an advisor and good friend named Bayard Rustin. Mr. Rustin was the master strategist of the 1963 March on Washington, an event which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. He was the one who brought Gandhi’s approach of nonviolent protest into the civil rights movement. And Rustin and Dr. King were close friends.
Mr. Rustin also happened to be an openly gay man. In the 1950s, being gay was virtually unspeakable. When word got out that one of Dr. King’s advisors was openly gay, many within the movement feared that Rustin would discredit their work. Rustin shared these fears so he promptly turned in his letter of resignation to Dr. King. This was during the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. King ultimately decided to accept Rustin’s resignation. Rustin was then snuck out of Montgomery in the trunk of a car.
Standing in my own time, I understand that Dr. King made a decision that he thought was best for the movement. But I am also disappointed in my hero. Wasn’t King doing to Rustin, his friend and advisor, exactly what white people had been doing to black people for hundreds of years?
This story reminds me that even our heroes are imperfect. That we are all products of our age and must overcome the prejudices of our era. It causes me to wonder what prejudices I hold that will disappoint my grandchildren? What must I overcome?
This story does not diminish Dr. King in my eyes, however. The fact that he is a real person makes him even more compelling and accessible. It gives me hope that all of us ordinary people, filled with imperfections and prejudices, have the potential to do extraordinary things.