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Martin Luther King Jr. and Love


“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

We often remember Martin Luther King Jr. as someone who urged peace, even gave his life for it. We remember him as someone who marched with others to make vast and unparalleled change. We remember his beautiful, provocative, and moving speeches. But when I think about King, I am always reminded of his enormous capacity to love. 

Given the climate in our country right now, King’s messages of love seem to be most imperative. He talked about love over and over. He firmly believed in the power of love to stamp out hate: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” King urged us to pay attention to our ability and power to love one another. 

It seems as of late, regardless of our race, color, or religion, we are pre-occupied with ourselves and advancing our own interests rather than that of our collective whole—our schools, our communities, and our nation. We spend time watching reality television, which often depicts the worst of whom and what we are as a society. We are obsessed with controversy—enjoying the way various media outlets lift people up and tear them down in a short period of time. We love gossip instead of success whether that gossip is about celebrities or those who are close to us.

I often tell my best friend that I would much rather live life than watch it happen. I want to feel life daily as it is short and fragile. Imagine the power we would have to spread King’s messages of love if we stopped what we normally do and spent time living and reaching out to others, loving them. Call me gushy (go ahead) but I know for sure that I always feel better when I am kind to people—even strangers. I feel better when I show gestures of love rather than hate. I feel hollow when I am mean. Imagine if we all tried our best to show kindness toward each other. 

King advised us to never to allow ourselves to hate—not even those who are our enemies. He said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Whenever I am angry or frustrated with someone, I recall King’s words and try (I don’t always succeed) to rise above my anger or frustration and model good actions and behaviors for others.

As we celebrate this beautiful man’s life and work, I hope we all keep in mind and live his words (beyond the holiday). Like King, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Have you? 

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of “Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of “Understanding Minority Serving Institutions” (SUNY Press, 2008).

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